A little over a decade ago, I finally sat down and wrote a novel. It was the kind of story one prefers to right after one’s parents have gone on, as one, at least this one, has always felt a certain decorum was required. If one was to write something that did not fit with that image….
Around 2000 I realized I did not think my parents were going to die off anytime soon, (thankfully, they still haven’t, and I hope to keep them around for many years to come, even if they are in their 80s), I needed to forget it, or wrote. Decorum be danged, if you see what I mean.
There are also changes I have gone through as a person that would make me write this a little differently. I might even be a better writer now than then, but I cannot be the judge of that. I had hoped to get a publisher to buy it and sell a million copies and pay me lots of royalties. after all, I did send many hours writing it, and I don’t know if I will ever get another one out. I believe I received over 300 rejections. I am pretty sure my work will never see the light of day, and I suppose I could go self publish it and try to make a dollar or two, but by now, I am to the point, if anyone ever wants to read it. let it be in the public domain. I do still love some of the characters so much I dream of rewriting from a more appropriate view point, but life goes by. I doubt I will, and if I do, they will inhabit another story, or at least this story from a so drastically different point of view as to constitute a new and unpublished work. so here it is. I liked it when I wrote it, though I thought the “empire” section was the weakest. the sections involving the inner lives of African Americans, most likely not done to justification, but here it is:
it for free as an actual eb
Green Hills Farm Soso Mississippi
For my sons, Bartholomew, Dylan and Christopher, and folks anywhere, who look at the mess of the old south and wonder why.
I make no apology for what I’ve written. In fact, I take little credit for writing it at all.
Most of what is written on here is the notes I took down from unsolicited visitors while I sat in my musty wing back chair. I would sit in the bedroom of our old farmhouse in Shorter, Alabama and receive visits from two long dead ladies of the old south.
On quiet summer afternoons, behind pale blue sheer curtains, underneath a slow moving fan hung from the eleven foot ceiling, the wide pine floor boards would creak and a ghost would come stand at the mantelpiece and tell me her story. Usually it was May but I was also visited by Betty. Both women had suffered the tragedies common to the old south.
As the stories take place before I was born, and to people I never knew, it is hardly my fault if they don’t sit well with the reader. The places are real, though I moved them around a bit to fit into my memory a little better.
I believe, within the limits of my ability as a writer, every character is true unto himself. If the scenes and words that occur within offend, understand they are the lives and words of the characters. I hope I am not judged harshly by the reader for telling the tale.
The Birth 1859
On August 4th, as the afternoon sun neared the finish
of its long trek across the Alabama sky,
the woman gave a final push
and the nurse held up a glorious child
– a golden child,
with a thin nose and golden eyes
and a head covered with ringlets
that looked for all the world
like threads of spun gold.
No one, not even the old African seer,
could know what destruction or redemption
this child would bring.
The Dogs 1958
“Cute pups,” thought Toby.
The wild dogs’ large brown eyes and even larger furry ears gave them a look of something crossed between a little cotton tail bunny and child’s stuffed teddy bear. Only the occasional licking of their lips exposed the canine fangs, so well suited for the death and destruction of prey. Otherwise, they looked almost harmless. Toby was tempted to reach through the grill and stroke one with his finger. Maybe they would bite it off, maybe not. Sometimes he felt the same urge with small tigers. Toby still had ten fingers, he resisted the urge. As the plane cleared the coast of Cuba, the dogs began soft moans. Toby checked his gauges one more time, then turned to look at the dogs.
“Sorry pups, I know a plane ride isn’t what you had in mind, just a couple of hours and we will be down in Opa-Locka. It’s kill or be killed out here. In Africa or America, you are either prey or predator, I‘m just your taxi driver.”
As the plane settled into a smooth level flight, over calm blue water, they quieted down. After he sat the little plane down in the western Florida scrub airport, he took the cages out, hosed them out and reloaded them. He took a couple of pounds of ground beef out of his big igloo cooler and pushed some through the grill of each cage.
These guys had been on the road from somewhere Africa for nearly a week. He wondered if anybody else had fed them. They looked starved, but wild dogs have that gaunt look, and they can eat half their body weight so you can’t really tell.
Toby ran an air taxi service from Miami to the Keys to Havana. He also ran a smuggling business, mostly small exotic game and monkeys. Toby made it his business to find folks in the South who had the genteel concept that they could discreetly own just about anything but slaves if they would part with enough money and be careful about flaunting their prizes.
About once each week Toby brought up a few crates with paper work marked LaGrange International Animal Exposition. No inspectors today, as usual. Toby would rip up the paperwork as soon as the dogs were safely delivered to the nut case in Alabama. He pushed the shiny chrome button on the hard curved metal dash. The glove box popped open. Toby tucked the packing list back into the glove box. He had one more flight to LaGrange.
LaGrange is a little town on U.S. Highway 29 about halfway between Montgomery and Atlanta. The LaGrange International Animal Exposition was a gas station that had two sets of pumps out front. The bright yellow eight foot high wood fence stretched a hundred yards each way off the sides of the building.
The building itself was about twenty feet square, enough room for a cigarette box, a rack of candy and a little counter where you paid for your snack.
Over the cash register a sign read:
See WILD Animals from Around the World
$1.00 for adults and $.50 for children
Children must be accompanied by adult.
Road weary travelers, tired of fighting the two lane traffic and restlessness of kids in the back seat would pay their money to see assorted bears and alligators plus an occasional African Exotic. LaGrange was legit, more or less.
Toby’s brother ran the place and had a Georgia Wildlife Exhibitors permit. The animals were well-kept and it always passed its annual inspection. But Toby’s imports were not for legal public display.
The 15-20 dollars the exhibit drew on a given day barely paid the care and feeding costs. Most of these little 1950’s roadside attractions were poorly run and always at risk of losing their exhibitors permit. Toby paid his cousin $100 a week in cash to make sure LaGrange stayed spic and span. LaGrange International Animal Exposition was only a safety net for screw-ups.
A monkey might cost $100 in Africa plus that much again for shipping. Toby sold them all day long for $500 each. Some cats had double that in profit, certain bucks cost as much as the cats.
Toby was a spider with web strands from New Orleans and Memphis to Savannah and Columbia. So when he felt a jingle in Montgomery, he eased over one Friday afternoon to meet with a true scion of the old south: a great, great, grand nephew of President Jefferson Davis himself.
Robert (Bobby) Davis Jones, Jr. looked less than the part in a cotton plaid shirt. He waited in a booth at Chris’ on Dexter Avenue sipping a Buffalo Rock ginger ale. Chris’ was quiet at mid-afternoon. A distant clink of dishes and silverware being washed and stored came from the counter area.
Overhead ceiling fans gave out a dry clatter of pull chains rattling against fan motors played lead over the soft bass of fan blades moving slowly through the air. The blades moved so slow that the lone fly was not disturbed on its path from point to point on the walls and tables in the dim dining room.
Bobby wasn’t a man given to ironic reflections, but if he was, he might have noted the fact that he was buying smuggled animals less than two blocks from where dear old Uncle Jeff had taken an oath to lead the South into a hundred years of darkness and suffering.
“It is amusing,” he thought, “Using African wild dogs to eat niggers.” They had caused his family much suffering and shame.
The bitterness he felt over the loss of his grandmother was somewhat offset by his ability to reek havoc with her money.
“Mr. Jones?” Toby extended his hand.
“Yes sir, Robert Davis Jones, and you would be Toby Cobb?” replied Bobby. “Any relation to Ty?”
“As a matter of fact, Ty was a great uncle of mine,” answered Toby, “But I really didn’t come here to talk baseball or distant relatives. I guess we both could do a bit of the latter.”
“Yeah, I guess we could. Like I told you on the phone, I’m distantly related to President Jefferson Davis. J.D. wasn’t that close to our side of the family. His folks moved to Kentucky after coming over from Wales in colonial times.
Our ancestor was the younger brother came to Virginia and stayed until my great-great-grandfather Ben Davis came down here and set up a plantation on Davis Hill. When Ol’ Ben got killed by that damn nigger in 1880, none of J.D.’s folks came. In fact the whole time he was in Montgomery, he never came up to Davis Hill. Of course we were always proud to be related but that and a quarter will get you a beer.”
“A nigger killed you great grand father?” asked Toby.
“Actually it was my great great grandfather but yeah that little darkie was helping the old man with a farming contraption used to pull a breaking plow in the delta muck. Seems he started the horses while Ol’ Ben was in the machine, cut him to pieces.”
“Did they lynch him?” asked Toby.
“No, he ran off and nobody ever heard of him after that. How ’bout we talk a little business? Oh, I’m sorry, you want a coke or a Buffalo Rock?” said Bobby, trying to get off family. He wanted to get back to the dogs.
“Buffalo Rock, what the hell is that?” asked Toby.
“It’s a ginger ale from Birmingham, good for the stomach, I drink’em any time I’m not drinking whisky,” replied Bobby.
“No, I’m good, let’s talk,” said Toby, “You looking for some dogs, right? Wild dogs?”
“African wild dogs,” Bobby confirmed.
“Damn, I don’t care what you plan to do with them, but you understand, I don’t want no questions coming back on me when somebody gets mauled,” said Toby.
“I run a business and I plan to keep running it for years to come. So it would be helpful if you could reassure me these animals aren’t going to end up in some swamp down around here stalking livestock or snatching small children,” said Toby.
“Do I look like some fool?” Bobby bristled. Toby was silent.
“Hell, okay maybe you think that’s exactly what I look like but, I’ve done my research. I got an eight foot high picket fence and they ain’t going anywhere. I just don’t want no varmints or niggers nosing around my backyard,” Bobby answered.
Bobby’s voice rose and fell as he tried to keep from losing his patience with this Florida-Cracker-by-way-of-Georgia-Redneck. To his mind Toby was a low life criminal, someone who would sell anything to anyone for a price.
Toby was a necessary person, like a grave digger. He needed him to accomplish his worthy and noble goal of teaching the coloreds up on Davis Hill a lesson. Bobby certainly did not consider him a peer. It offended him to explain himself to this piece of white trash.
“Hey it’s okay, I just gotta make sure you know what you’re getting into. These dogs can make life miserable for both of us if something goes wrong. I don’t want no misery.” said Toby.
“You don’t have to worry about my end. You just get them to me safe and take your money,” Bobby sipped the ginger ale to calm his angry stomach.
“Well, at $800 a dog. How many you figuring on?” asked Toby.
“Five. Four bitches and a dog.”
“Sex will cost you a grand each.” Toby said, adding, “You thinking of breeding?”
“Just to keep the stock up, I ain’t hankering to pay you a grand every five years or so.”
“I got five grand in my pocket. You can have half now and half when I get the dogs”
“No, I’ll take the five now. Your dogs will be in LaGrange in two weeks from today.”
“I said half and half,” Bobby growled.
“You want the dogs?”
“Yeah, but I don’t trust nobody from Florida,” muttered Bobby, mad at this asshole and madder at himself for letting on about having it all in his pocket.
“Well, I ain’t asking for your trust, just money. You’ll get your dogs. I didn’t build a name stiffing folks.”
Bobby gave him a nasty grin, “Okay, but you have the dogs here in two weeks or I’ll be coming after a lot more than my money.”
Standing, Toby took the money. He eyed the man as he stuffed it in his pocket.
“Be careful. Be damn careful. They’ll eat you as easily as they’ll eat a rabbit or possum.”
“I know, I done told you, I did my research.”
Toby hit the little grass strip and the plane rolled unto the solid earth of West Georgia as the sun sank over Alabama. He loaded the dogs into the back of the Studebaker panel truck parked at the end of the clearing. They looked better, but they needed to get out of those cages.
When he pulled in behind the yellow wood fence at the Exposition, his cousin came out to meet him.
“Get the dogs out of the back and wash down the cages, give’em a couple of pounds of the ground meat each,” Toby said.
“Watch out, they look like dogs, but they are more like the tigers,” he added, heading for the couch in the back office.
When Toby awoke, it was about seven in the morning. His cousin was making a racket feeding the animals. Toby made a call to the phone number Bobby had given him.
“Your dogs are here, you can pick them up anytime today,” he said.
“I gotta get back to Miami,” he thought, as he hung up the phone.
Monroe Plantation 1845 – 1858
In the summer of 1845 the Monroe Plantation grew by exactly one, tiny slave. A baby girl by the name of May arrived on the Plantation with barely a cry: a false impression of the powerful forces she would unleash in the decades to come.
When May was old enough to be of any use she helped her mother, Annie, the Monroe’s housekeeper in the main house. She learned to dust with precision: carefully picking up items, using her feather duster to brush away the dust and with great care replacing the items exactly as she found them. She emptied chamber pots and stripped bed sheets. She scrubbed the bed linens and clothes over an iron wash pot.
May often played with the Monroe children, daughter Agnes, and her brother Tommy when she had a little free time. As a ‘house girl,’ as long as the house work was done she was allowed to play a few hours.
All in all, May was happy, at least as happy as a slave girl could be. Her father, Joe, served as the plantation gardener. She would often see him working in front of the house pulling weeds, turning beds and resetting bulbs. He had a love of plants and beauty and took great pride in his work.
Both of her parents tried to pass to May the knowledge that this was their lot in life but, of course, she didn’t understand just what they meant. To her, they were all Monroes, servants and masters, one family.
Agnes had an old copy of Whittier’s Bible Stories for Children, and May and Agnes read stories back and forth to each other. At first Agnes simply practiced her reading on May, but May loved the stories so much she eventually learned to read along. When the book grew a bit tattered and Agnes moved on to other books, she gave May the little book.
Slaves rarely learned to read, and rarer still for them to own a book. May treasured the book and often reread the stories in the evening before going to sleep.
Her reading skills were never more than passable and she mostly used key words to help her remember the stories. Over the years the stories changed little by little in her retelling them to herself. Sometimes while reading, the girls would play make believe and act out the stories.
One day when May was ten years old, Agnes came looking for May, “May, come play with me, I was just reading about the royal court of England. It sounds so grand!”
May was helping Annie. She looked at her mother, “I’m supposed to help Mama with these curtains.”
“It’s alright,” Annie said, “Run along and play with Miss Aggie, I’ll finish up on my own.”
As May went with Agnes back to the front of the house, Agnes said, “Let’s play like we are going to a grand party.”
“We’ll be ladies and the gentlemen will want to dance with us.”
“Yes, that would be lovely, Aggie, but what shall we do?” May asked in her most ladylike voice.
“Oh, we will have to dress up and put on perfumes and make up our faces. Then we can pretend the coachman will bring the carriage around the house and we will ride away,” Agnes said, her eyes aglow at the image.
“But Aggie I can’t dress up and surely we aren’t going to ride in the carriage?” interrupted May.
“Sure you can dress up May! You’ll be the prettiest one there,” Agnes answered.
“But Aggie, my only dress clothes are my formal serving clothes and Miss Monroe told me not to be ever wearing that when we didn’t have no company,” May’s fine ladylike talk gave way to nervous slave-girl speech.
Agnes reached into the closet and pulled out a green and white taffeta dress, “It’s alright May, you can wear one of my dresses, I’ve got plenty of them. Here you can wear this one.”
May’s eyes lit up. “That’s beautiful!”
“Take your work dress off and put it on. Now let me see, I’ve got a brand new dress. Yes, this is the one,” said Agnes as she removed a dress bag from the rack. Hers was a deep, rich blue with white ruffles at the neck.
“Let me see,” said May as she stripped to her underdress.
“Wait a minute, I’ve got to get it out of the bag. You go ahead and get into that other one,” directed Agnes.
May slipped the dress on. It looked beautiful but it was very starchy. Her skin itched, but when she looked in the mirror she didn’t mind the itch.
“How do I look, Aggie?”
“My you look like a princess! And me?” Agnes strode slowly out from behind her dressing table.
Little May stared, “Oh, Aggie you are lovely.”
“I’m really going to a ball tonight, in Montgomery. This is the dress I’m wearing,” Agnes explained.
“I wish I could go,” May said.
“May you know the only time slave girls go to a party is when they need them to work,” Agnes corrected her.
“Anyway you are slumping your shoulders, stand up hold your shoulders back like this,” Agnes pushed May’s shoulders up and back, “yes that’s much better.”
“I still wish I could go one time as a little princess like you, Aggie,” May pleaded.
The girls were so engaged with their dress up neither heard Aggie’s mother, Miss Mary’s footsteps in the hall or even the sound of the door to Aggie’s room being opened.
“Agnes Monroe! What are you doing?” Miss Mary snapped. “May, get out of the dress and get back to your quarters!”
Miss Mary ‘s voice startled both girls. May jumped up, pulled the dress off over her head and grabbed her work dress from the floor. She ran from the room in her petticoat, dress streaming behind her.
“Mother, we were just having fun,” answered Agnes.
“Fun? You’ve ruined a perfectly fine dress now,” replied her mother.
“But Mother I didn’t ruin anything,” Agnes was confused.
“Agnes, that dress May put on wasn’t old or worn or torn or stained. You could have worn it several more times. Your father pays good money for your dresses.”
“But Mother, I can still wear it…”
“You certainly are not going around wearing a dress a little slave child has worn, what would that say?” asked her mother.
“We could give it to May,” Agnes suggested.
“We could not, if you had waited until it was no longer suitable for you, then yes, we could have let little May wear it around for her Sunday dress. If you start in giving perfectly fine dresses to slave children, what will be people say? No, we will have to burn it.”
“Burn it? But Mother!” cried Agnes.
“Yes, of course, take it to Annie and tell her what happened so she knows to burn it,” instructed Miss Mary.
“Yes Mother,” replied Agnes, as she picked up the dress and carried it down to the laundry shed.
“Annie, Mother said for you to burn this dress.”
“Good Lord child, why your mama want me to burn the dress?” asked Annie, holding it up to see what was the matter with it.
“May put it on today while we were playing, now mother says it has to be burned. I wanted to give it to May but she says that won’t do,” explained Agnes.
“No, no, your mother is right, I’ll burn it right away. You is a sweet girl Miss Aggie, but you gotta learn us slave folks, we be good at heart, but you not s’posed to be a contaminating your stuff with no black folks stuff. Now run along, I got a dress to burn,” replied Annie.
As Aggie disappeared back into the main house, Annie tore a rough square from the front of the dress. Then she tossed the rest of the dress into the fire she had started under the wash pot. She stuffed the little square into her apron.
She spent the afternoon dumping clothes in the hot lye water, pulling them out, with her wash stick and scrubbing them on the board. While one load was soaking in the cold clean water in the next pot, she loaded the next pile into the steaming acrid water. Washing was the toughest chore, heavy lifting scrubbing and burnt raw skin.
Annie kept at it until nearly sundown and then she went to her little cottage off between the laundry shed and the main house.
“Get up girl, ain’t no cause to be crying, you got it better than most of our kind,” she called out to the prone May.
“But Mama, We were just playing, I didn’t ruin that dress, I wasn’t dirty, I was very careful and I looked beautiful, even Aggie said so,” replied May, raising her tear stained face from the floor.
“May, don’t you know we is all dirty to them? It has to be that way. If they ever admitted we was all the same … why they’d have to let us go. The Monroes are good folks, for white folks, but they can’t afford to treat us like whites,” explained Annie.
“They have to get the cotton picked, they need a good life and where you think they going to get a good life without the farm hands out there? And without us sweeping and washing and cleaning? Child, this ain’t about you and Aggie, this is about keeping order. Its about keeping things as they is,” Annie continued.
May started to argue: “But that’s not fair, how come I can’t go to the ball, how come I have to help you keep there house?”
“Even lots of white folks don’t get to go to no fancy balls, that’s just for rich, white folk. Plain folk, white and colored done gotta work while the rich folk go off to stuff like that. But you ain’t even poor free white, you is property! Most days the Monroes don’t remind of us of that. Most days they treat us pretty good, but sometimes when a slave gets out of order, they gotta remind that slave, they is the same as cattle bought for a job and can be sold or whipped as the owner sees fit.
Annie pulled the little piece of dress fabric from her apron, “this is to remind you how much trouble you can cause by doing what a slave girl ain’t s’posed to do. You can make trouble for white and black folks, only you better know this, white folks don’t take no trouble. You will suffer, not them. You have to help me keep their house because that’s the way it is. Life ain’t fair and you better be glad it ain’t.”
“The Monroes done took a liking to me and your Daddy. We got it plumb easy child. My hands are sore today and my back’s near to breaking and Miss Mary and Miss Aggie is putting on fine clothes and going in to town. But look at the field hands, everyday they a hurting.”
“The Mamas and the Daddies and every one of them children goes to sleep every night worse’n than I will tonight. Be glad you a ‘house child.’ And stay out of trouble,” cautioned Annie.
May’s eyes had not left the little square in Annie’s hand, “what you going to do with that, Mama?”
“I’m going to sew it in your quilt so as you can look at it every night and remember. Were you listening to me? Or was you daydreaming about this dress? This dress is burned, do you get that? Burned. And because of you,” Annie’s angry words rang with the fear of the trouble that a girl like May could bring on herself.
“Okay, Mama, I’ll remember,” said May.
“Good, run along to the house, ask if you can be of some use, and if you see Miss Mary or Miss Aggie, you say nothing about this morning, you hear?” ordered Annie. May nodded.
” And don’t ever say nothing about this piece a cloth,” Annie added as May moved to the cottage door.
Annie stuck the cloth under the mattress and followed May over to the house. “Washing is all done Miss Mary, may I help with your stuff?”
“Yes, Annie, take our bags and put them in the carriage, if he hasn’t brought it around yet, send May after him with urgency. We are getting late,” said Miss Mary.
“You did burn the dress Annie?” she added.
“Yes Ma’am, I threw it in the laundry fire, I talked to May, I’m most sorry. She has learned, she’ll keep in her place, yes Ma’am,” replied Annie.
“Thank you Annie, yes I’m sure you’ll help her to remember how to act,” said Miss Mary, adding, “if you see Agnes send her this way.”
“Yes Ma’am,” said Annie picking up the largest of the cases resting against the staircase.
That night May tried to take comfort in her little story book, but every story seemed to be about a little black girl who couldn’t go to the party because they burned her dress. Eventually she blew out the lamp and buried her face in her quilt and cried herself to sleep.
May and Tommy 1858
Spring came over the Monroe Plantation more suddenly than anyone could ever remember it coming. A fury of wildflowers bloomed at the far edges of the property where just days ago it seemed patches of snow clung to the fence posts. Birds sang from morning ’til night. The crickets chirped so loudly in the evening it was sometimes hard to sleep. Everyone and everything seemed more vibrant and happy and interesting than they had just a few cold weeks ago.
Spring fever hit thirteen year old Tommy Monroe worse than anyone else on the plantation. Miss Singletary, his teacher, became so frustrated with Tommy’s inability to focus on his lessons that she had to go to Mrs. Monroe for assistance. After a stern talking-to, Tommy did a little better but not by much.
Miss Singletary would still find him staring out of the window; watching the slaves working in the fields, in the front yard and down at the stream instead of doing his class work. What she didn’t know, and he would never say, was that Tommy wasn’t being sidetracked by daydreams. He was sidetracked by one specific, solitary subject: May Monroe.
Little May blossomed as quickly as spring had arrived. She seemed several years older than her 13 years and was showing the promise of a luscious beauty that would attract the eyes of many men in her life. Tommy Monroe was the first. Tommy would pretend he was hunting deer so that he could duck around the main house and outbuildings in the mornings as an excuse to watch May going about her chores.
The sight of her bending to pick up baskets, the sway of her hips as she walked, the fullness of her breasts against her dress were enough to make Tommy stop in his tracks and almost forget to breathe.
May knew Tommy watched her. She’d noticed him peeking out from around the corner of the main house several weeks ago. At first she didn’t know what he was up to … she guessed it was Tommy just being Tommy.
Lately though she’s noticed that he’s always around, always watching her. She thought it was sweet and exciting. He appeared out of nowhere one morning as May went from hen to hen collecting eggs.
“Whatcha doin’ May?” he asked, a small smile playing on his lips; his eyes sparkling.
“Gathering eggs like I do every mornin’, Master Tommy,” she replied.
“After breakfast is made why don’t you come on back out here?” Tommy continued.
“Yes sir, Master Tommy,” said May, smiling sheepishly.
May picked up the basket of warm eggs, straightened her apron and walked back to the kitchen. Annie took one look at her daughter and knew May was up to something.
If it wasn’t breakfast time and if she wasn’t already running behind, she would have set her daughter down for a little chat.
As it was, she simply said, “you alright girl?”
“Yes Ma’am Mama,” replied May, as she set the eggs down and wiped her hands.
Annie turned to the task of breaking eggs as May went to the linen cabinet to get fresh napkins. After May had set the places at the big table she returned to the kitchen, “Anything else Mama?” she asked sweetly, a little too sweetly her mother thought.
“Yes, go upstairs and tell the Monroe’s its breakfast time,” said Annie.
“Yes Ma’am, but they not all up there,” May said.
Annie looked up from the eggs and sausage, “They not? Who’s not ?”
“Master Tommy’s out in the chicken house,” said May.
“I see,” said Annie, seeing more in May’s earlier look now and not liking it a bit. “Okay, run along upstairs and tell them that’s there, then go fetch Tommy. That boy don’t like to miss breakfast.”
“Yes Ma’am,” May called back as she took the steps two at a time.
“Miss Aggie! … Miss Mary! … Mister Monroe! … Breakfast!,” she sang out as she tapped on the solid oak doors lining the second floor hall.
“Coming May,” they all replied in more or less in unison.
May stepped out into the morning sun and made her way to the hen house where Tommy was still standing.
“Master Tommy, your breakfast is ready.”
“Okay May, but I bet you’re prettier than them eggs your mama is serving,” answered Tommy.
“I don’t know about that but its kind of you to say. But I ain’t going nowhere and them eggs is getting cold if you don’t go wash up,” said May.
Tommy gave her a long look then they both went towards the house, Tommy to the front door and May to the kitchen entrance.
“Mama, they all been sent for, you need anymore help?” asked May.
“Take up the biscuits and put them in the silver warmer take them and the gravy on out for the folks,” answered Annie, trying to think of chores to keep her daughter busy until she could get the time to talk to her. “Be careful not to spill anything on that tablecloth. Then you can take the coffee in there.”
“Yes Ma’am,” said May as she did as she was told.
While the white folks ate breakfast May built two fires and drew water for washing dishes and clothes. Annie attended to the needs of the Monroes, bringing various side dishes and removing empty plates cups and glasses. Annie’s skill as a server was such that those sitting around the table hardly noticed her presence.
After breakfast May washed the service while Annie began laundry. Normally May would help her mother finish the laundry, as it took a good deal longer than the dishes. This time May never came to help.
May wanted to get to the chicken house as Tommy had asked as quickly as possible. Parents and masters made it hard for her to sneak out unnoticed but she found a way.
Since she couldn’t go out the front door because she was slave and she couldn’t go out the kitchen door because her mother would ask too many questions, she left through the little-used fire door near the twin chimneys for the kitchen and the great room.
She had one more obstacle between her and Master Tommy: her father’s garden tool shed. She managed to sneak past while her father was distracted.
“Thought you weren’t coming,” teased Tommy as May ducked into the hen house
“It took a while, I was gonna come, I try to obey,” answered May.
“You only come here ’cause your master ordered?” asked Tommy.
“Well, I try to obey, but I can’t say as I didn’t want to come see what you wanted neither,” smiled May.
“What I wanted was you,” said Tommy approaching nervous May.
May knew this was trouble but she liked the way Tommy looked, tall, thin and blonde, everything the slave boys weren’t. She liked that a white boy thought she was pretty.
“Master Tommy,” was all she got out before Tommy pulled her into his arms.
“Shhhh,” he whispered as he kissed her. A light kiss on the lips. It was the first for both of them. Tommy was awkward and May mostly stood still.
“Kiss me back,” said Tommy. As May leaned up to kiss his lips she felt Tommy’s hands slide up her back under her shirt.
She kissed his pale thin lips with full rich ones of her own, “Master Tommy I’m afraid, what if we get caught? Mister Monroe is gonna tan you and I don’t know what might happen to me,” said May.
“You think too much,” replied Tommy, “don’t you like me? Don’t you like me touching you?”
“Oh Master Tommy, you know I do, but…” started May.
“Shhhh, I want to make love to you, don’t you want that, and my Daddy is going to Montgomery, he won’t know,” said Tommy.
“I don’t know what I want, I ain’t never done no love making, but you sure are nice, are you sure about your daddy?” answered May.
Tommy slipped his hands around to the front of May’s body, her young breasts lay unrestrained in her loose shirt and apron. The young couple both responded to this intimate touch.
Tommy kissed her again and moved one hand down to unfasten her skirt.
May pulled away, “let me do it, you don’t know where the buttons are.”
Tommy stood and watched as May dropped her skirt on the dirt floor. As she pulled her underskirt down to reveal her bare body, a look of horror spread over Tommy’s face.
“You little whore! Get away from my son!” screamed a stunned Paul Monroe.
May turned, grabbed her clothes with one motion and flew out the back door of the chicken house.
Annie’s heart caught in her throat when May banged through the kitchen door half-naked, her dress balled up against her chest.
“Oh Baby, what have you done?” was all Annie could say.
“Mister Monroe thinks I’m a whore!” cried May.
“Well, my God, girl! You hardly got clothes on? What were you doing outside without your skirt on?” asked Annie.
“She was trying to seduce my boy,” answered Monroe from the kitchen doorway.
“No Mama, I wasn’t! I mean, it wasn’t like that,” stammered May.
“Don’t contradict me you little slave whore! Monroes don’t take none of that from the slave women around here. Ask your own mother, she’s been here ten years.”
Monroe turned to Annie, “Annie any white man ever come after your stuff?”
“No sir, nobody ever bother me for that kinda thing,” replied Annie.
“I raised you better May! What have you done?” asked Annie.
“But Tommy asked me to come see him this morning,” said May.
By now Tommy had eased up behind his father.
“Uhh, yes, Father, I like May, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt none,” said Tommy.
May, Annie and Paul Monroe all stared at Tommy. His courage and decency ran straight as his father’s even if his young desires had caused the crisis.
“Tommy, you know we don’t raise light colored slaves around here,” said Monroe.
“Yes Father,” said Tommy, “but …”
“No ‘buts’ son, now go up to your room and wait for me,” said Monroe.
“Annie, I’m going to talk to that boy, but I think May will be leaving this place,” he said as he turned to follow Tommy into the house.
“Please Mister Monroe! Don’t send my baby away!” cried Annie.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do, Annie, go get your man and all three of you wait in the kitchen, I have a boy to tend to now,” answered Monroe.
Paul Monroe climbed the stairs to his son’s room. Opening the door he started, “Tommy, you sure have made a mess.”
“But Pa, I only kissed her, that won’t make any babies will it?” Tommy subconsciously reverted to his childhood name for his father, Paul, usually one for formality, let it pass. Tommy wasn’t sure what was coming his way, he hoped he might reason with his father.
“Tommy, if I hadn’t walked in on you two, where would it have stopped?” asked Paul. Tommy made no reply.
He continued, “it wouldn’t have stopped, that’s where. I know you both are young and I know May has been around the house most of your life. I also know what happens when slave girls have white men’s babies.”
“What do you mean?” asked Tommy.
“Tommy, you don’t think anything about us owning slaves. you think it is a natural state but it isn’t. May and Annie and all the rest of them are people,” he said.
“They aren’t mules or oxen. They have dreams. They came from Africa, where they were free people just like us. I’m not saying its right or even okay for people to own other people. That’s not my decision.
All I know is we have to have them. You and I can’t tend to thousands of acres of cotton. Your Mother and Aggie can’t keep up this big ole house. We have got to have slaves to make this plantation work.”
Paul’s lecture was building on all the frustration he kept inside. Years of living this dark truth gave an edge to his voice that Tommy couldn’t understand.
” Pa, I wasn’t doing nothing about slaves, I just wanted a little of May’s loving.”
“That’s just it,” he said, “May can’t give you any loving because you own her, all she can do is obey. Don’t you know she would have sex with you no matter how much she didn’t want to because you own her?”
“No, Pa, I asked her if she wanted to do it and she said she did,” replied Tommy.
“That doesn’t matter, if she did or didn’t, she still had no choice. A man should respect the mother of his children, he shouldn’t own her. And that’s the worst part Tommy. I know you are a good boy. You have good breeding from both sides of this family if I do say so myself. you would want to respect May if you kept messing with her,” explained Monroe.
“Well then it would be okay, right,” asked Tommy, still hopeful.
“No dammit! That’s what I’m trying to explain. You can’t start treating some of the slaves better than others, like some of them are almost white,” said you will destroy everything here. If they don’t rise up against you the other slaves or the other landowners will destroy that light skinned slave,” said Monroe.
“Why would the slaves kill him?” asked Tommy.
“Out of jealousy and the white folks would kill him to save our system. I helped do that a few years ago myself. I’m not proud of it, but it had to be done. Now what would you do if May or some other slave girl had your baby? You would want to treat that child as your own. And when it paid for your mistake with its life, you would do something foolish, I know you would,” explained Monroe.
“I’m not saying some white men don’t take a slave women to their bed, I’m just saying it won’t happen here while I’m alive,” Paul Monroe was nearly spent from his venting.
“You helped kill a man? How? When? What happened? Did you get in trouble?” asked Tommy.
“I don’t want to talk about that now…. I guess, maybe I should tell you,” said Monroe, thoughtfully.
“You don’t remember Old Man Thompson. He was Josh Thompson’s father. He made that old plantation from wilderness, and he was a little wild himself. I guess he had to be.”
“Anyway, he had a slave woman. They had a baby together. It was about the time Josh was born. No before that, because Josh was a boy when the killing happened,” Monroe explained.
“But who did yall kill? Asked Tommy.
“I’m getting to that. Old Man Thompson was soft on the negro boy. He taught him to read, built him a real little house, better than most white folks have. The boy didn’t even hardly work. He piddled around in the blacksmith shop. He drew pictures and wrote poetry. Can you believe it? A negro writing poetry? I never saw what he wrote, but the old man put a lot by it. Anyway, as any thinking white man could have told him, coddling that boy only made an uppity negro, a trouble maker. In fact, your grandfather did try to talk to him, but he was a stone wall on matters about that negro,” Monroe said.
“What kind of trouble?” asked Tommy.
“He started agitating, first the house negroes, then even the field negroes to be free, to be treated like white folks. Some of the negroes in the house warned Thompson, but he wouldn’t listen. Of course he would listen to white folks, so why should he listen to negroes?
But what really brought it to a head was some of the negroes over here and at a couple of other places started listening to him. They started getting ideas. Now I don’t know nogro for wanting better, but that don’t mean we can give in. Before you know it we would be waiting on them, saying ‘yes’m and nos’m and fetching for them!
It is up to the good white folks to keep order, and order was going to hell, so we took action.”
“What kind of action?” asked Tommy.
A group of us young men from the plantations strung him up. I said I’m not proud, but it was the right thing to do,” Monroe answered.
“But why you? Why not get patrollers to do it? Asked Tommy.
“Patrollers are common thieves, this was a delicate matter. This required well bred gentlemen of high moral standing. We were on a mission to solve a problem. Patrollers might have raided the whole place, stole his slaves and worse.
No, we had to go. I wish we could have sent somebody else. Sometimes a man just has to do things. The other fellows gathered here. We rode our best horses. We wore the robes. Wne we got close we pulled the hoods down. Not because we were afraid, but because we represented all white people. We stood for what was right, not just five young men, but as the arm of order.
We rode up the long drive. The pecan trees were younger then, but already tall, tall enough,” he said.
“Tall enough for what?” asked Tommy.
“We rode up to that little house the boy lived in. I knocked on the door. He didn’t want to come out, but when he saw it was me, I raised my hood so he could get a look, he came out. We took him from the porch. One of the guys had a clothe, we tied it around his mouth.
We put him up on the back of one of the horses and all rode back half way down the lane. There was a fine tall tree. It made good nuts, if I remember. Anyway, we threw a rope over a good strong limb, then as we were putting the noose on, the gag came off. He looked at me. His eyes were big. He was afraid, but he was angry, too. Then he said something…” Monroe shook his head.
“What did he say?” asked Tommy.
“He said we could kill him, but the African, that’s what he called the negroes, the African was going to haunt us. He said he knew who we were, and that this was wrong, that we would pay.”
“Pay?” said Tommy.
“Yes, that is what he said, and he was right. I have been haunted by that night all my life. I have paid dearly for having to do the right thing, to kill a man. Even if he was a negro, I knew he was just another man wanting to be free. I was so sorry he was negro, so sorry he had to die. His curse was true,” added Monroe.
“What happened after that? Asked Tommy.
“Nothing. I mean Old Man Thompson was furious. He came to my father and demanded justice. He wanted us boys all whipped. Your grandfather told him, he didn’t care who he laid down with or how many negroes he fathered or if every slave on the Thompson Plantation was whiter than he was, but that when a negro started spreading trouble, he had to go.”
“He had to go, even if the owner didn’t have the sense God gave a mule and couldn’t see it for himself.”
“When your grandfather told him that was justice, he demanded to be repaid for the loss of a slave. Dad told him that we had done him a favor, that the trouble maker was not worth the rope we had used. He told him to go home and bury the boy, and to bury the whole sorry mess. That is just what the old man did.”
“Okay Pa, I’ll leave May alone. I’m sorry,” atoned Tommy.
“I’m going to make sure of that. I’m sending her away for good,” said Monroe.
“No, Pa! I mean please don’t send her away, she’s like family,” begged Tommy.
“You are right, she’s as much a Monroe as the rest of us. But your wanting her to stay is the reason she has to go,” Monroe said flatly.
“I was your age once, your blood get wild and will get the best of you again if I back down. I’m sending her to Davis Hill. You think about how your behavior is going to hurt May and her parents.”
“You think of how much we will all miss little May. Remember this price. Maybe the next little slave girl that turns your head … well, maybe you’ll be able to behave like a gentleman then,” added Monroe.
“Yes, Father, may I say good-bye to May?” asked Tommy.
“Oh, yes, you certainly may. You are going with me to the kitchen to see May and her mother and father when I tell them she is leaving.”
“I don’t want you to miss any of the pain,” concluded Monroe.
Annie and Joe, May’s father sat in the kitchen but stood as Mister Monroe entered.
“Mister Monroe, please, she’s my baby, I’ll keep her out of the way. Please, please,” Annie begged.
Joe never said a word, he knew the hopelessness of his rage as the
old man explained: “I’m sending her to Davis Hill, it’s thirty miles from here. Just the other side of Montgomery, maybe she can come home once or twice a year.”
Then to May, “Get your things, say your good-byes, I’ll take you myself in the morning,” said Monroe. May sobbed as Paul Monroe turned and took his son by the hand and led him back upstairs.
“Stay up here until I get back from Davis Hill tomorrow,” said Monroe as he closed the door to his son’s bedroom. The gloom at Monroe Plantation fell on white and colored alike in thick clouds. Of course, the pain was greater for May’s family but Tommy’s lesson burned into his youthful memory like a torch. Aggie wouldn’t look at either of the Monroe men for a week. Tommy was sick in his room for three days.
May Comes to Davis Hill 1858
Paul Monroe had his two best horses hitched to the wagon. May sat on the back bench, her bag beside her. Monroe’s driver was a large black man named Ezekiel. He and Monroe sat on the front bench. The dawn was just breaking when they rattled down the long drive.
Annie and Joe stood on the porch, neither spoke or cried. Annie waved, and waved. May waved back. She didn’t cry either. She was too stunned to cry. This was her home and it was slipping away, in the dust of the wagon wheels. It was slipping away as she watched. She thought about what her mama had said just a few hours earlier.
All through the night, Annie held her baby. Neither slept.
“Now baby, if these folks are friends of the Monroes, they most likely good folks. As good as white folks can be. I don’t know what to say. I never had a baby sold off. I never thought I would,” Annie whispered.
She was trying to think of something to comfort her baby, her only child. All she could think of was that she might not ever see this little girl again, thinking about the injustice, thinking abut how this sort of thing happened all the time. She thought about how she had no right to complain. As white folks go, she knew none were better than the Monroes.
But all that thinking didn’t stop her from feeling like she was dying. It didn’t stop her from wanting to scream, but she knew she had to be strong. She had to be brave for May.
“Baby, you will have nobody to protect you. You will have to look out. Find a nice old woman, if you can, but remember, she don’t owe you nothing. They get an old woman what runs the kitchen, Josie. I met her once. She seems nice enough. Try to stay on her good side. This is real life. You gonna be a real slave now,” Annie said.
“Mama, I always been a slave,” May interjected.
“No, honey, you were born a slave, but you been a house girl. You been the master’s niggers’ people. You been a child,” Annie explained.
“Maybe you will still be a house girl, but aint no Miss Aggie, or even no Miss Mary, what both them got some feelings for you. The new folks, you just gonna be a troublemaking nigger they got for cheap,” Annie added.
After a few hours of quietly aching, Annie got up. May got up with her. There would be no sleep. Annie looked at May’s meager belongings. She had more than most slaves, but it was still a pittance.
“May, you gonna wear your best stuff. Get me out them good shoes. I’m gonna black’em again,” Annie sadi.
May got the better of her two pair of shoes. Her daily shoes were nearly rags, but she had an old pair of Aggie’s that were just worn out.
Aggie had thrown them out when they got a bit scuffed. Now May used them when company came and she helped serve. The same was true for her good dress. It wasn’t a fancy dress, just Aggie’s old house dress. May had gotten it because Aggie torn it. When Annie stitched it back together, Aggie looked at it and said May should have it.
“I want you to look sharp. I want you to hold your head to the Davis niggers. You good people, from good people. Now you be humble and polite to the Davis white folks, but don’t let none of their help push you around. Only, mind what I said about Josie. You treat her like a white woman. She can help you. But you gonna have to make her want to help you. You don’t wanna be no field hand,” said Annie.
Annie packed everything in May’s little clothe bag. She hugged her for a long time. Then the stable lad came around and said it was time for May to go.
Now May sat in silence. The wagon turned onto the Federal Highway, that ran east through Indian Country, to Atlanta, but it turned west, towards Montgomery. The Monroe place disappeared. Her mama and daddy disappeared. Ezekiel cracked a whip over the team and they hit a solid gait.
“Its gonna be along ride. You sit tight. I don’t expect any trouble from you,” Monroe told her once they were out on the road.
“Yes, sir, I won’t be no trouble,” she replied.
It was nearly dark by the time they started up the gentle rise above the river. May looked at the fine house and thought it might be alright for her. Most girls got married off and went to work by the time they were fifteen. She would be that old in a few months. She knew she still looked like a little girl, but she thought she could be a grown woman if she had to be. And it looked like she was going to have to be just that.
May and Ben 1858 – 1859
At 14 years old May became a slave orphan and the object of another white man’s lust. She guessed the Monroes had no idea that Mr. Ben took sick little pleasures from his young slaves.
Mr. Ben was a monster and endlessly aroused. May thanked the Lord that
Mr. Ben only came looking for her on Wednesdays when Missy went to her Ladies Meetings. It seemed as soon as Missy’s carriage left the gate Mr. Ben was all over her.
It wasn’t about ‘loving,’ as it had been with young Tommy. It was about counting. Counting Mr. Ben’s explosions. The first time he forced himself into her mouth she spit, but that got her a boot between her breasts. She had learned to swallow, knowing she would have an hour or so to rest. Then back to go again, anything less than a count of six and Mr. Ben would be evil all week.
She hadn’t been back to her Mama yet in two years and looks like the only way to get there would be running away. Running away through thirty miles of white folks’ grounds and horsewhips, and then what? If her Mama could have helped, May would never have come to Davis Hill. The only person May could turn to was Josie, the cook.
“Now just be patient,” calmed Josie, “you only got another year.”
“What do you mean?” asked May as she set the table and tried not to cry from the pain and shame.
“It’s like a ritual, Mr. Ben had me too, but he only likes it when it hurts, when you’re young. You start to liking it and you’re done.”
“I’m never gonna like it, not the poking, not the swallowing,” cried May.
“Oh yes you will, you’ll be aching for it in a couple of years, but Mr. Ben will be having some other fuzzy, little woman-child suckling him. He don’t much care for a grown woman and he don’t want you so old as you can make him a baby,” explained Josie.
“I can make a baby now.”
“You best not! Missy Davis, she knows what he’s doing but she can’t stop him. Lord knows a white woman ain’t but two steps up from a slave anyways, but out comes a baby… she won’t stand for that!”
May didn’t say anything, she didn’t tell Josie that she hadn’t bled in three months except on Wednesdays and that didn’t count. That was just Mr. Ben’s ripping and tearing.
Josie was right, of course. When the belly began to swell Missy was furious, not so much May but at Ben for making a fool of her. The second Wednesday evening following May’s forth missed period, Missy was no longer able to lie to her self.
May helped Josie serve and clear dinner. Ben was quiet. He was mulling over the three problems May presented. What to do with her, what to tell Missy to get her to leave him alone and his biggest concern – who would he get to service his needs.
He hardly noticed Missy’s small talk.
“Mrs. Brown says Wetumpka is getting more rain than usual. She said we ought to be getting washed away down here.”
“Hmmm” uttered Ben.
“The Lacey girl is getting engaged to a Wilson boy from Montgomery. I think his father is a banker down on Dexter,” Missy continued.
“Excuse me dear, I think I will retire to my library. Finish your dinner, I really need to give some thought to a matter.” Ben stood and walked from the table. A fine silver fork clattered against French china. Missy stared after Ben’s retreating back.
“Of all the nerve, after what he has done to me, to just get up and walk out. Not only does he not have any morals, he has no manners,” she said to herself.
“Yes, Ma’am,” said Josie, clearing Ben’s plate. Missy was surprised by Josie’s response, she didn’t realize she had spoken her thoughts out loud.
“You might as well take mine to Josie, I couldn’t possibly eat after that,” Missy stood.
“Yes, Ma’am,” again replied Josie, returning for Missy’s plate. Missy remained standing at the end of the long dark dinning room. Off to her right Josie and May were talking and washing up in the kitchen. To the left stood the solid oak doors pulled quietly together by counterweighted rollers. She felt like going upstairs and taking a bromide and falling into a deep sleep. Maybe she could fall into a sleep from which she wouldn’t have to wake.
Missy breathed hard and sat back down for a moment. “I must talk to him,” she muttered and arose and crossed to the library door. Silently they slid back under her touch.
“Ben, if I wasn’t a Christian women I’d have killed you by now. All this sick and evil messing around with colored children. You gotta get rid of that girl. Now!” Missy wasn’t yelling, but that was only because she was a lady. She was in that fury of knowing she had morality on her side but Ben had the power to keep morality out of it.
“Now Missy, you know I can’t get rid of her now, she won’t bring anything. It’s too risky to buy a women who can’t work and might die before she ever delivers a slave child or picks a bag of cotton.”
“The good Lord knows I wish she had been picking cotton on those Wednesdays instead of… instead of, oh my God you are an evil man, Ben,” stammered Missy.
“A fine thing for a good Christian woman to be saying to her husband. You sure are happy to ride my fine carriage to town, you sure are pleased to eat the food served to you by Josie. Seems the only thing you don’t want to do is what God made a woman for in the first place. These little nigger girls are getting grown too fast, I didn’t mean to start no high color slaves up here. But a man’s got to have his satisfaction.” Ben said, rising up from the wing back chair where he had been enjoying his after dinner pipe.
“Satisfaction? Is that what you call the perversion you demand? Well, I am a lady and you should provide for me. As God is my witness, I never refused to try to give you an heir. But all that nastiness and every week,” Missy declared.
“Sometimes I’m glad we have those poor little slave girls, so they can take part in your sickness. I simply couldn’t stand it,” she added.
“Yes, that is what I call satisfaction. But while we are talking about satisfaction, why can’t you let a man enjoy his pipe? You want to talk, talking isn’t going to fix that little pregnant girl. If she lives, I’ll send her back to the field hands. If she doesn’t, then your problem is solved. She might as well keep helping around here in the mean time. She would be of no use working cotton. I’ll tell Josie to keep her out of your way.” Ben settled back in his chair, comfortable that he had ended the discussion.
Missy paused to consider Ben’s words, “Alright then Benjamin, I’ll leave you to your pipe, but I expect that little Negro child and his child-mother to be out of my sight and out of this house. Put her in the shanty beyond the kitchen. Josie can keep an eye on her the last few weeks.”
“Fine Missy,” replied Ben.
She started towards the dining room, then paused, “Ben, if you will do that I’ll try again to give you a child.”
“Fine Missy, fine,” Ben repeated, seemingly taking her great effort to reestablish a marriage as an expected turn. Missy walked out through the dining room, to the entry way and up the stairs. A blind empty hopelessness led her to her room. She slept a deep, black sleep.
As weeks passed May stayed out of sight except on Wednesdays. Ben still used her for the counting. He didn’t care if her little stomach was getting bigger.
“Missy’s little white belly is growing, too,” Josie told her one afternoon. Old Ben had been having them both.
“What he did he have to give Missy considering all he put in me?” May wondered.
Josie laughed, “At least now you can be a wet nurse for Missy’s baby as well as your own.”
A few months later May gave birth to a strapping baby boy she named Bo. Missy delivered unto Ben his long awaited heir and namesake a few months later.
Josie proved right about a couple of other things: Missy had taken a stand, no more young girls in the house, and May discovered that she wanted Mr. Ben’s attentions.
On Wednesday a few months after Bo was born, May found herself sniffing around the kitchen on the pretense of talking to Josie.
“Child,” Josie said, “get in there, you come for Mr. Ben’s counting.”
May looked sheepish and didn’t say anything as she slipped down the hall to Ben’s office. She softly slid the door open and stood before him with a slight, knowing smile. Ben was anything but welcoming. He strode across the room and slapped her hard across the face.
“Get out of here you little whore!” he bellowed.
May ran through the kitchen and let the door slam behind her, she didn’t stop until she got to her little cottage. She lay down between the two sleeping half-brothers and woke them to nurse for some comfort.
Next Wednesday she was back and, for some reason, he was changed his mind. They were together every Wednesday for a month until she got pregnant again.
May named her newest son Luther.
This time Missy held firm, “Ben I gave you a son and you still defiled this house. She has to go, and those bastards must go with her.”
“Now Missy I’m half a mind to send you back to your father. You do not tell me what I must do.”
“I am your husband, I make the rules on this hill,” replied Ben.
“Maybe I should go back home,” Missy almost sobbed.
“You aren’t going anywhere, but I am going to send them all down to the field quarters, I don’t want none of them darkies getting the notion that some slaves are better than others. She can pick cotton like God made niggers to do in the first place,” answered Ben, trying to placate his wife without giving her the satisfaction of feeling like she had convinced him of anything.
Ben went to the kitchen to find Josie, “Tell May that she has to be out of the shanty by dark. Tell her to get her things down to the field quarters and report to the overseer at dawn, she’s picking cotton in the bottom like the rest of them.”
“Yes, sir Mr. Ben,” replied Josie. With that, without another face-to-face meeting May was exiled to the fields.
Klan House 1958
Every year on Confederates Day, the city of Montgomery hosted an parade that started at the train station, up Dexter Avenue and around the Capitol. The afternoon was filled with speeches by politicians and surviving soldiers of the great war of the south. The centennial celebration in 1961 would be the last great coming together of the old Southern Aristocracy. The veterans were all long gone by then and shortly afterwards, the day was taken over by the race baiting of George Wallace.Wild masses of rednecks filled the streets and the gentle upper class faded from the spectacle they created.
Betty had taken Bobby to most of these winter gatherings of the faithful from as early as he could remember. Now Betty was getting old and it fell to Bobby to drive Betty in her old sedan to the celebration. As the 1950’s wore on she drove less and less. So in 1958, when Betty told Bobby they were going to the Confederates Day Parade, he knew what kind of day awaited him.
“Granny, why don’t we wait for the big one in a couple of years?” he asked.
“Bobby, I may not be here in 1961, and it is the only day we have to remember what a wonderful place the south once was. We are going,” insisted Betty.
“Yes, Ma’am, Granny,” conceded Bobby.
So as the cold Alabama air blew through his clothes, Bobby fired up the Buick and pulled it up to the front porch. He left it idling while he helped Betty with her stuff.
Betty stood in her bulky dress, obviously pulled on over longjohn underwear, wearing her heavy comfortable shoes and a silly boxy hat with a white feather. She had begun wearing the feather to these memorial events when Bobby’s father was killed in Europe. That was before Bobby’s memory, like the war and Ben Davis and Ben Davis, Jr. These were just things told to him by Betty, though the war and Ben, Sr. predated her too. To Betty all of it was real, as real as yesterday.
At any rate Bobby never questioned the feather, and at nearly eighty years of age, Betty knew there were few others who would remember the details of her family’s military service. She didn’t bother to point out that her line of the Davis family sent no men to war in the cause of the Confederacy. She was Miss Betty Davis Jones, great grand niece of Jefferson Davis, or close enough to it that no one dared contradict her when she stated it.
Bobby gathered Betty’s bag, filled with snacks, a jar of sweet tea and her beloved pain pills along with her light folding seat. He put the gear in the back seat, walked his grandmother to the passenger side of the car, opened the door and made sure she was comfortably seated.
“Go lock the front door Bobby, honey, we don’t want the niggers carrying the place off,” directed Betty.
“Yes, Ma’am,” replied Bobby as he headed back up the steps.
“I was gonna do that anyway, dammit,” he added softly.
“I’m almost forty and she still thinks I’m ten years old,” he thought, “she’s getting old, I must be patient with her.” He said nothing.
Bobby eased the sedan out on to US Hwy 231 and started south. Within a few minutes they were parked near the Little White House of the Confederacy.
The little White House was Jeff Davis’ home for only a few months until they moved the Capitol to Richmond, but is was his official residence and Montgomerians were very proud of it. Bobby was as proud as anyone else, but they actually parked there to be close to the steps of the Alabama State Capitol. Betty tired easily.
The sun came out in broken slivers between the battle gray clouds so common in late January. Alabama winter weather is primarily divided between gray wet days with highs in the forties and clear blue days, bright and bitter cold with feathery snow clouds skating by miles above.
When the rare snow actually comes, the clouds are low and gray like the typical warm winter sky, but the thermometer drops rapidly in the night as cold arctic air pushes down on the rain clouds. The rain clouds send showers of large wet flakes earthward.
If the cold starts early enough in the evening, you can get an inch or two of accumulation before the typical weather pattern returns and leaves a sloppy gray mess on the barren earth. This Confederates Day was gray but by mid morning the temperature had fallen to 34 degrees and the wind was blowing straight down from Michigan. Betty bundled herself tightly and sat on her chair.
“Granny, I think I’m gonna go get a cup of coffee and get out of this cold for a little while,” said Bobby after the first round of paraders and speeches.
“Okay, honey, now don’t forget your old Granny out here,” answered Betty.
“Yes, Ma’am, how long you reckon you want to stay today?” Bobby asked.
“Well, I’m sure I want to stay until three o’clock when they honor the dead, but shortly after that I’ll be ready. You know I don’t like going back up on that hill with all them niggers after dark,” stated Betty.
“Yes, Ma’am,” said Bobby, as he turned toward the river and walked off. “Funny old woman, my Granny,” he thought, “she’s lived up there with those same folks for her whole life and now she’s afraid of them at night…” Bobby’s cup of coffee was actually whiskey, or in truth, several.
He walked into a small bar wedged between the old hardware store with the ‘ark’ looking sculptures on each corner and a deserted warehouse. The sign painted on the front glass said “The Elmwood”. Inside was about as far from elms as it could be. The lighting was nearly nonexistent and every surface seemed covered in black leather. Except the black leather had dust, ash and dried beer and whiskey over it. This was a place to drink.
Bobby sat down at the end of the bar and gulped down his first whiskey. He fished around in his coat pocket and pulled out a slightly crumpled pack of Winston’s, “got a light?” he asked the young man sitting next to him.
“Sure,” the man said tossing him a book of matches. The matches had the logo of the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy on it.
“You been to the parade?” asked Bobby.
“Yeah, got cold and thirsty. The name’s Milan, John Milan,” said the man sticking out his hand.
“Bobby,” said Bobby, “actually Robert Davis Jones, but everybody calls me Bobby. I guess we ought to be out in that piss freezing weather showing our respect,” Bobby added.
“Hell, I bet those old dead soldiers would rather have a beer than a parade,” said John.
“To old dead soldiers,” said Bobby raising his glass.
John smiled and clinked the edge of his beer against Bobby’s glass.
” I tell you what else,” said John, feeling a little guilty drinking on this sacred day of remembrance, “I don’t think them boys died to let some niggers build a church right in front of the Capitol steps. I’d like to put a match to that place,” he added.
“Yeah, I’d like to see that fat nigger King fellow try to organize a boycott out front of his little church today. I bet we would be organizing his funeral instead,” Bobby laughed.
“You know he is a fat little nigger ain’t he, funny how niggers all s’posed to be working so hard, but you take the average nigger preacher, he’s got smooth hands and a big belly,” said John.
“I bet them church mammies keep little King full of cornbread and fried chicken,” John added.
“You know they do, and I hear them nigger preachers fuck half the women in their church most of the time, too,” replied Bobby, trying to think of something even more insulting to impress his new friend.
“You know it,” said John, waving his empty beer bottle at the bartender.
“Maybe half the nigger men, too,” added Bobby, proud to have thought of something really vile.
“What?” said John, who was paying more attention to the bartender than Bobby at the moment.
“You know he’s likely screw his deacons, too,” restated Bobby.
“More’n likely,” replied John.
“You know we need to fix us a couple of niggers to set and example. Ever since that bus thing, they getting worse and worse,” added Bobby.
“You live in Montgomery?” asked John, tiring a bit of nigger talk.
“No, I live on Davis Hill, half way to Wetumpka, just brought my Granny down to see the parade, though she had no business coming,” he said .
“What you mean no business?” asked John.
“Well, she’s so old she has to live with me, and this weather ain’t fit for nothing but drinking,” said Bobby, trying to explain why he lived with his grandmother in a way that made him sound responsible.
“Yeah, well you can’t tell the old folks what to do. They so used to telling us, they won’t listen,” said John.
“Don’t I know it,” said Bobby, thinking, “I like the way this man talks.”
John looked at his watch, “hey it’s about time for the honoring of the dead, I guess I better get on back out there. I came with my old man. He got to talking to some of the old guys and I just slipped off, but he’ll be looking for me and I don’t want to walk back to Chilsom.”
“Yeah, me, too,” said Bobby, flagging the bartender.
“I’m driving, but I don’t want to hear about it for a week, how I left my dear old Granny out in the cold and got drunk,” Bobby smiled and shook John’s hand.
“Nice meeting you,” said John.
” You, too,” replied Bobby.
Bobby turned his back to the cold wind and wondered if it would really snow. In a few minutes he found Betty where he left her. She looked sick.
“Granny, you okay?” he asked. She didn’t respond.
“Granny,” Bobby said again, touching her shoulder lightly, “let’s get you home.” He half pulled and half carried her back to the car and tucked her into the cold front seat.
“Sorry it’s so cold in here Granny,” he said, turning the heat on high.
“It always takes a little while to warm up, honey,” she said.
Bobby hurried into the early winter dusk, worrying about Betty and feeling guilty about letting on that she was a burden.
“I’m sorry, Granny,” he said after a while.
“It’s okay, I was the one who wanted to go,” Betty said. “I’ll be fine when I get home. I think I will have a toddy though. Will you fix me one when we get back to the house?”
“Sure Granny, be glad to,” Bobby replied, thinking he could use another drink, as well. Betty didn’t care much for folks drinking more than a whiskey or two at a party. She didn’t think good people drank without occasion.
Bobby pulled up close to the front porch and helped Betty inside the house.
“Go on to bed, I’ll bring you a toddy when I park the car,” Bobby said. he pulled the Buick back around the house and got Betty’s things out of the back seat. When he started back into the house he noticed the big fat wet flakes drifting down into his face.
“Well, at least it held off ’til we got home,” he said to himself. Bobby went into the kitchen and looked into the back of the pantry. An unopened bottle of good bourbon.
“Yes!” he thought. He went to the refrigerator and opened up the tiny little freezer door and got a tray of ice. He ran some warm water over the bottom of the overturned tray, then pulled up on the lever, releasing the cubes from between the metal blades.
“Ah, that’s better,” he thought. He put four cubes in a glass and poured the bourbon as full as he could without spilling it.
“Granny, dammit,” he said getting another glass and warming up a toddy on the stove. He had forgotten Betty twice in the same day. Carefully he tested the toddy, “too hot,” he thought. He sat back down and took a couple more sips, feeling mellow.
He tested Betty’s drink again. It would do. Bobby carried the warm glass to Betty’s room, careful of his walking, he had drank quite a bit of whiskey today. He liked getting a little drunk, but he didn’t get the chance that often with Betty and all. He tapped softly on the door, Betty didn’t respond.
He pushed the door open. She was asleep already. She had taken off her coat and heavy shoes and just laid down on the bed in her dress and longjohns. Bobby sat the toddy on the bedside table and covered her up with a blanket.
Back in the kitchen he finished his glass and poured another whiskey.
“I hope she’s better in the morning,” he thought. Bobby drank until the bourbon was gone. He fell asleep with his head on the kitchen table. He awoke suddenly.
“Damn, Granny is gonna be down here any minute and she will give me hell,” he thought as he grabbed the empty bottle and glass. He put the glass in the sink and took the bottle outside to the trash. He leaned against a tree. The adrenalin was replaced with nausea and a blinding headache. He had to pee. With one hand he held the tree, with the other he opened his trousers and sprayed Betty’s flower bed.
“Dammit,” Bobby swore, noticing a generous spray pattern on his pant leg. Back in the kitchen he wiped at his pants and tried to start a pot of coffee. In a minute he remembered Betty had been sick. He went to her door and knocked. No answer.
When he opened the door he smelled death. Yesterday had been Betty’s last Confederates Day. There was nothing he could do for her now. Bobby washed up, got dressed and drove to Wetumpka. He stopped at the police station.
“Who do I report a death to, Officer Williams?” he asked the front desk officer, reading his name tag.
“Did you kill someone?” Williams asked.
“No, no, my grandmother died last night in her sleep,” Bobby explained.
“I’ll call the Medical Examiner for you,” said Williams, “where do you live?”
Bobby told him.
Williams said, “you ought to go back home and wait on the M.E.”
“M-E?” asked Bobby.
“Yeah, the Medical Examiner, like I told you,” said Williams.
“Oh, reckon how long before he gets out there?” asked Bobby.
“An hour or so at the earliest, M.E.s don’t like to get an early start unless it is a suspicious death. Was it suspicious?” asked Williams.
“No, she was nearly eighty, she insisted I take her down to Montgomery for the parade yesterday, I think the cold got to her. She was poorly anyway. She just never woke up,” explained Bobby.
“Oh, probably by noon, I’d say,” said Williams.
“I’ll be home by then, I got a couple of things to pick up here in town,” said Bobby, leaving.
Betty had no white living relatives other than Bobby. The M.E. suggested Bobby ought to see if Betty left a will. She had. She left everything to Bobby.
Everything was the bungalow, forty acres, the Buick, Bobby’s truck, which he drove but she owned, and the money. The money was three thousand dollars in the bank, and a fifty thousand dollar insurance policy plus a hundred thousand in investments she had made with his grandfather’s policy back in 1919. With interest and appreciation he was now worth over two hundred thousand dollars plus the house and land.
Bobby had picked up a couple of bottles of moderately priced bourbon at the State Store while he was in Wetumpka.
After he found the will, he figured he wasn’t gonna drink anymore cheap stuff. He drank what he had because he hated to throw it out and he didn’t feel like driving back to town.
Bobby didn’t waste a lot of money on Betty’s funeral. He kept it simple which kept it cheap. Nobody came except a few of the old ladies his Granny knew from Wetumpka. They might have thought it was a bit plain, but he didn’t care about their opinions anyway. It was his money now. He didn’t plan to lose it on flowers and pewter caskets. Bobby wasn’t fond of working and with the place free and clear and the money, he could avoid work the rest of his life. The one relative that would have come but didn’t because he knew he wasn’t invited was Dup, his nearest living relative. The day after Betty died, Dup wandered over when he saw Bobby outside of the house.
Before the day was out Bobby had befriended his mostly white, slow witted cousin. A few days after Betty was in the ground he took Dup and went back to Montgomery to the little hole in the wall bar. He went frequently for the next month until he ran into John again. John introduced him to a couple of his friends.
By March, the group of them had starting hanging out at the bungalow and planning racial mischief. Dup had moved out of Lilly’s place and became something of Bobby’s man-about-the-house. Lilly had died a few years earlier and Dup tried to fend for himself. The house had pretty much fallen down around him. He didn’t farm, except for a bit of garden big enough to raise his own groceries. He raised and killed and salted his own pork. Dup was a functioning, but lonely hermit. He was glad to be Bobby’s butler and maid and drinking companion.
It was in March that the gang thought of hunting down Negroes for sport. One night when they were tired of poker they sat on the couches in the den and watched a special nature show.
The thin whited haired narrator spoke as the camera panned across a grassy meadow, “the African Wild Dog hunts in packs like most wild canines.”
” As you can see, they are smaller than German Shepherds,” the thin man droned on as a pack of about dozen small dogs with large black ears came into view.
“These diminutive dogs kill more people in Africa than any other mammal except the hippopotamus,” the TV man continued.
“That’s how we can do it!” exclaimed Bobby.
“Do what?” asked Dup.
“We can get African Wild Dogs to kill niggers, they are their natural predator,” explained Bobby.
“Where we gonna get wild dogs, especially African Wild Dogs?” asked Dup.
John spoke up, “I know a man in LaGrange, Georgia. He deals in wild stuff. We could ride over there sometime Bobby.”
“Sure, that sounds good,” said Dup.
“No, I don’t think we should all go, people like this can get kinda skittery if they see too many folks is involved,” said John.
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” said Bobby.
“Dup you need to stay and watch the house, maybe John and me could go up next week some time,” added Bobby. Dup was a little hurt to be left out, but John and Bobby went and met the keeper of the roadside wild game park. He passed a message along to Toby to get in touch with Bobby.
Cotton Picking 1859-1865
Ben Davis sent May, still full of milk, out to the muddy bottom land to live in a cotton shanty. Alabama winters on the plantation were more relaxed than in the growing season, but there was still plenty for a new field hand to do.
May helped the older women repair the slaves’ rags into solid pieces of clothing and all the hands worked on general repairs of buildings and farm tools.
May also spent hours pumping the bellows for the blacksmith. Her muscles ached and her hands blistered and callused but she knew the others would have liked to trade places with her. She was able to keep her sons nearby. Luther stayed in an empty iron crate and she tied Bo about the waist with a leather strap to keep him from the fire and the hot flying pieces of iron.
Even though the heat blistered her face and torso and an occasional ‘pop’ of iron would burn her legs, she was grateful to have her babies out of the raw wet cold that the other slaves labored through. The smithy was a silent older man named John. He rarely spoke except to instruct her.
“Faster,” “slower,” “steady” and “hold up,” seemed to be John’s entire vocabulary.
May didn’t mind. She would sing softly to the boys to calm them.
Whenever John would stop striking his forge hammer, May would release the bellows and change the baby and walk Bo out to the shed to feed him, usually she could finish up before John finished his smoking ritual.
The ritual consisted of finding a cool spot in the corner of the shop, dusting an upturned crate with his big dark rough hand, and settling down with a grunt, reaching into his sweaty apron pocket of removing his tobacco and his pipe, packing the pipe and getting back up and going over to the forge fire to suck in the flame into his pipe, returning to his corner, and with eyes half-closed pulling drafts of tobacco until the pipe was finished.
In the evenings May would bathe herself and the boys to remove the soot from their bodies. The field hands laughingly wondered whether the “house slave was tryin’ to wash herself and her boys white enough to get back in that house.”
One cold afternoon a black man in a tattered over coat and a black suit rode up to the blacksmith shop. He dismounted and walked over to where John and May were working.
“I’m Reverend Shaker Brown,” the man said in John’s general direction as he warmed his hands near the fire. John nodded and kept working.
“I’m looking for a Negress who come up here from the Monroe Plantation a few years back. She still here?” he continued. John pointed at May.
“That you?” Shaker turned and looked closer at May.
“Yes Sir, I’m May Monroe,” she answered.
“Wait here, I got something for you,” said Shaker, turning to go back to his horse. He opened a saddle bag and pulled out a cloth sack.
“I’m a circuit rider for the Lord,” he said, “I was down at the Monroe place a couple of months back. An old woman gave me this and said if I ever made it to Davis Hill, to give it to you.” He handed May the bundle.
“I never got up this way. I’ve been working over at Clanton’s Crossing and around Prattville. The woman, I reckon she was your mother,” he paused and May nodded, “she said things were bad and I reckon they were.
A Union raiding party burnt Mr. Monroe’s cotton warehouse. It was full of cotton. Anyway, she said give you this, on account of her not knowing if and when she might ever see you again.”
May thanked him and opened the sack. It was her quilt. The one with the piece of taffeta dress sewn in it, but there was the palm of a gardener’s leather glove sown over all but the edges of the square piece of dress. May gasped.
“Pa is dead!” she cried, burying her face in the quilt.
“Well I didn’t see no man with her, so I don’t know. I was just s’posed to deliver it. I’m sorry if it brings you bad news,” Shaker said quietly. To John he said: “I need to water my horse and get on down to the ferry before dark.”
He then tore a page out of the Bible he carried in his coat. Gently he stuffed it between the dress fabric and the worn leather glove.
“Take this as a blessing now child, may Jesus watch over you and your father, too,” Shaker said, turning to leave. He and John walked out to the horse and John led him over to the water trough. Shaker tapped the light layer of ice off the top of the trough to allow his horse to drink. Then he was gone.
In the spring, May was sent to the field. Although the work was as hard and the sun was hotter, she was glad to get her hearing back.
In the evening, May would carefully pull out the thin page of scripture. Shaker had torn out the 15th and 16th chapters of Judges from the Old Testament. May wondered at the strange words and struggled over the strange sounding names of people and places. But Shaker had given it as a blessing. She made out words like Samson, foxes, fire and jawbone and she already knew the story. It was a blessing, because it reminded her of her favorite story about how Samson not only killed the oppressing Philistines, but how he finally triumphed and killed them all and became a martyr for his faith.May would tell the story as she remembered it from Aggie’s little book.
“Now Samson was a servant of the Lord,” started May.
“Servant? Was he a slave like us?” asked Bo.
“No, he was a servant of the Lord because he wanted to be, not because the Lord would hunt him down with dogs if he run away,” she explained.
“Now let me tell you the story,” May continued.
“See Samson was a very strong man because he was special, as long as he did not cut his hair or do some other things that God told him about, he could not be killed. But Samson married a woman who was a Philistine, they were the people oppressing the children of God. Her name was Delilah and she was always trying to find out Samson’s secret so she could tell the Philistines.
Then they would kill Samson. One time she tried to get him killed and when he knew she was telling his enemies any secret he told her he got very angry. He caught three hundred foxes and tied dry grass to their tails and set the grass on fire.
The foxes ran all over the Philistine’s land and burned up their houses and barns and all the crops in the fields.”
Another time she read to them about how Samson slayed the Philistines with a bone.
“This just made them mad at Samson though, so they got Delilah to try to find out what Samson’s secrets were again. Samson tricked her again, because he knew she was going to give his secret away.
Then when the Philistines come to get him, thinking they know the secret to his strength, Samson picks up a the jawbone of a dead ass and kills a thousand more Philistines and he named the place where he done the killing Remothleehigh. Ms Aggie taught me that name just right, because its a very big word and I never could read it myself,” May concluded that part of the story and kissed the boys good night.
The boys enjoyed the fighting. They liked to be Samson, lighting fires and slaying the evil men. They would shout, “I name this place Ra-moth- lee-high,” and throw down the bone or stick with great ceremony. She worried sometimes, but they never really hurt each other and it seemed to make them happy. She had a hard time denying them a small happiness amongst the grinding grief of being the property of others.
All of May’s winter work in the blacksmith shop and all the spring’s planting and summer hoeing had not prepared her for picking cotton. Her little fingers learned to bleed just like her insides used to.
When Bo was about five years old, he decided he didn’t want to pick cotton one September morning.
“Come on Bo, help and I’ll tell you the story of Gumbo,” said May, trying to get his mind off of the grinding work.
“Gumbo, you mean you going to tell me about food?” asked a confused Bo.
“No honey I’ll tell the story about a slave woman from Louisiana, down where your grandmother got off the old slave trader’s boat,” explained May.
“Tell us a story,” piped up Luther.
“Okay I’ll tell you, now come on we got some cotton to pick so as Mr. William don’t get angry at us,” said May.
“Yes’m,” both boys replied.
As the sun began to burn, May started her tale, “Gumbo was a child of a god…..”
Bo interrupted, “Yes Mother, I know the preacher says we are all children of God…”
May continued, “Honey, listen to me, don’t be interrupting. A CHILD OF A DIFFERENT GOD, A GOD BEFORE THAT WHITE MAN’S GOD WAS BORN. A GREEK GOD. Poseidon.”
“Poison?” asked Luther who had been listening closely.
“No, not poison, Poseidon, the god of the sea. Poseidon protected Matifa when she wasn’t much older than Bo, on a dreadful slave ship,” continued May.
Bo stopped her, “Who’s Matifa and how did a god protect her? And if he was protecting her, how come he didn’t take her back to Africa?
“Shhh now child, just listen, answered May. “She was Gumbo’s mother. He couldn’t take her back, her village was burned, the Zulu sold them all to the Dutch.”
“Anyway, she brought her Africa with her,” said May gesturing to her heart and her head, “In here…and here.
She continued, “He did protect her. In that dark hold with thousands of other frightened and sick Africans. Right next to her was chained a dead man. They came down and unbolted him from the rail and he flopped over on her with all that foul stuff he lost in the dying. They just laughed when Matifa cried. They said not to worry about him they would come back for her while she was still alive. She knew what they meant. She just shook, thinking of she had seen girls drug off like a sack of potatoes, or hurt right there, still chained while all the other Africans looked on helplessly.
She watched them drag that old man’s dead body up the ladder, banging him about with no respect. Matifa said a prayer for his spirit, then began to pray to the African God of the rivers, not knowing any God of the sea. Her home was too far inland for her to know the ocean.
I guess Poseidon heard her anyway. This great, powerful man rises up through the ship. He wasn’t African, but he sure wasn’t no Dutch slaver.”
“What was he, Mother?” asked Bo.
“Look at yourself, what are you?” replied May.
Bo looked at his tanning arms, “I guess I’m mostly brown.”
May replied, “That’s right child, he was about your color, he was Greek.”
“Anyway, this God,” May continued, “he looks Matifa and falls straight away in love, like a man can do, you know. He loved her like a cleansing warm bath of salt water, her first bath in weeks. Then he was gone, and a storm began to blow. She didn’t know his name until those Dutchmen began to cry out and curse Poseidon. They knew what he was doing and they knew what they had planned to do to Matifa.
After that, they wouldn’t come near her. They hardly were willing to bring her the slop they called food. But after the day of the storm, Matifa didn’t need their food. Poseidon came everyday with a feast from his kingdom: shrimp, crab, oysters, and salads made from some kind of sea grass, I guess. It was the most delicious food for a hungry little African girl, orphaned and sold into slavery, could have to eat.
She said to him one day, “Poseidon, you are so kind to me, I would like to give something to you.” He asked me what her had to offer a god? She reached into her robe and all she had was a little bag of charms filled with a hibiscus they call okra, or some call it gumbo.
She told him that the seed of that flower could make almost anything so good you couldn’t help but want it. He said “So it will be with our daughter. A flower growing in the Delta sun, brightening the lives of the free and the slave with her beauty and the magic with the cook pot”.
When she got to New Orleans, she was with child, carrying Gumbo, and as fat as any white girl. Poseidon’s baby wasn’t going to be hungry.
“Mother, if Poseidon was so worried about his baby, how come she had to be a slave down here instead of up on the clouds, dancing with the angels?” asked Bo.
May answered, “Gumbo, couldn’t be so selfish. What was one little African? He gave her a gift that will help all our people.”
“Gift, what gift, and this little African thinks his freedom is worth a lot,” interrupted Bo.
“I didn’t mean it that way. If I could take you to freedom, I would, both of you, and I’m sure Matifa would have taken little Gumbo to freedom too. Mothers want their children to be happy, to be free, more than anything, we wish for that. But what I’m saying is there’s thousands and thousands of Africans in chains, and more being born, I’m sure, everyday. And Gumbo had a gift no white nor African has got,” said May.
“Her father gave her a gift and made a promise,” continued May as they steadily picked cotton.
Little Luther asked, ” What gift Mother, and what promise?
May answered, “It is in her hands and in her head, Gumbo learned to create magic from rice, from beans, from the garden, the ocean and the swamp.”
“She showed our people how to live. I mean really live, even as slaves. How to be artists. She taught her children dignity even in bondage.
The promise…well Poseidon promised to give her life so long as she was upon the earth. She will live to see her grandchildren be free. And they shall remember her, and all of Louisiana shall have her name upon their lips. White lips and black lips will say, with love and affection, Gumbo,” May continued.
“Gumbo, daughter of the sea and mighty Africa,” May said.
“What does that promise mean Mama?” asked Bo.
“It means he will always be watching over Gumbo and us other slaves. When you hear of a dreadful storm coming out of the ocean, know some fool has made Poseidon angry. We must never fear the hurricane, it is a promise, like Noah’s rainbow. Our people will be free someday. Maybe not soon, but someday that hurricane will blow these chains off our hands and keep on blowing until every human being is as free as the wind and the rain of the mighty storm!” concluded May.
“Mama are we really gonna be free?” asked Bo.
“Someday, son, someday. Now I think we done picked us enough for a lunchtime stopping,” said May as she lay her sack on the ground and stretched. Even though she was not yet twenty years old her back was stiff and her shoulders were beginning to stoop a little.
One night May told them again a Samson story.
“One day Samson was very thirsty and he said to God, ‘you let me live and kill all those Philistines, but now I’m gonna die from thirst, I can’t drink my long hair.’
And God heard Samson and struck a hollow in the same old jawbone Samson used to kill all them Philistines. The water come out like a waterfall and Samson drank from the old bone and was revived and went out and slew more Philistines,” said May.
The next day in the long hot afternoon, Bo looked up from the row of cotton that he was tending, “God, strike me a hollow in the jawbone and make water come out!”
May laughed, “Bo, I don’t think he still does that kind of miracle, but some cool fresh water sure sounds good.” The boys were happy to see their mother laughing and it did indeed seem to raise their spirits.
Mr. William was a stern overseer, an older slave who managed the crew of pickers. As May and the boys settled in the shade, he approached, “May looks as if you got some help from the little ones this morning. That is a fine thing, let’s try to keep the pace this afternoon. There’s a lot of cotton out here and we need to get it in to the gin while Mr. Davis can still get a good price. Money in the boss man’s pocket makes for a better winter down in the quarters, you know.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. William, We will stay steady nigh ’bout ”til dark,” answered May. “Bo’s big enough to help and Luther ain’t hardly no trouble now, we surely will pick some cotton this afternoon.”
With this assurance Mr. William moved on down to the next shady spot to roust a napping slave, ” Get on up, John. There’s plenty of sun and plenty of cotton.”
“Don’t let May come in with more pounds than you at the end of the day. You’ll get your sleep after the sun goes down.”
John slowly stood and nodded. All the slaves strapped on their bags and began to find their places among the prickly cotton plants.
May sang softly to the boys and they sang along whenever they knew the words. On of their favorites was “Take me down to the Alabama”:
Take me down to the Alabama
I’m a swimmin’ cross
To the other side
And when the hounds come
Mama told me where to hide
Take me down to the Alabama
’cause I’m going home
To see my Mama
She’s a washing clothes
She’s a cooking at the stove
Between every verse the boys would sing the chorus:
She loves me like nobody knows
I’ll see her in the big house down there
I’ll smell the lye on her hands
And the scent of sausage in the air.
The verses would change to reflect May’s mood that day and the boys would listen to hear family stories set to rhyme. They loved the images in the chorus.
Some mystical grandmother in a big white house smelling clean and cooking sausage. Annie had never seen either of them.
For all May knew her mother might be dead, but to those little boys Grandma Annie was a magical person in a mythical land called the Monroe Plantation where slave and free children played dress up and dreamed together.
Of course that behavior led in no small part to May’s later troubles, but that did not dim her glorious memories of a sweeter childhood.
As the years went by Bo and Luther came to understand, who their daddy was and why no slave man would touch their Mama. They both were beginning to look like tanned editions of Old Ben. Their parentage gave them little protection from the insults and brutalities of the life of an American male slave child.
May’s House 1865 – 1870
May’s little family worked the fields in the summer and tended to chores in the shop in the winter until tragedy struck the Davis household. Missy died from fever in the summer of 1865. May was moved back in the main house to work in the kitchen. May was twenty, nearly seven years older and a lifetime wiser than the first time she moved into the plantation house.. She took over the kitchen as soon as she returned and slowly came to oversee the staff of servants who cleaned, served and prepared food and washed the clothing for Ben and Junior.
Bo had his father’s thin lips and long straight black hair but he had May’s big brown eyes, round face and quick smile. When Bo was about eight years Ben Davis came to the kitchen one morning.
” May, I think Bo should come with me today. Let’s see how he takes to farming,” Ben said.
May turned to Bo, “leave those dishes boy, go with Mr. Ben.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” said Bo, wiping his wet hands on his pants.
“Go tell Blackie to get my good wagon. We are going to do a little work,” said Ben.
“Yes, Sir,” replied Bo.
Bo practically flew out to the stables, “Mr. Blackie, Mr. Blackie, Mr. Ben says to get the good wagon ready!”
“Hold on there young man. What are you so excited about? I’ll get a good team, here, help me with these harnesses,” replied Blackie.
“He’s taking me with him to do some farming,” cried Bo.
“Well, that’s a mighty fine thing. You pay attention and don’t be no trouble. I know you’re gonna be mighty excited, but for now you still just another Negro on this plantation,” sagely instructed Blackie.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Blackie, but he’s my Daddy and he’s taking me with him!” exploded the little boy.
“That’s a true thing you say boy but be sure to not get in his way, calm down, now look here, hook these straps into the wagon,” said Blackie, holding the horses and handing Bo the leads.
“No like this, you don’t want the horses to get loose,” added Blackie as he secured the horses to the wagon.
“Hop aboard young man,” said Blackie, giving Bo a boost. Bo had never ridden in a wagon and sat amazed as the horses pulled them up to the front door of the main house. “You can see so much from up here,” he mused.
“Yes, you can and its a fine way to see the world. You gonna see a lot of things today, you look and listen and learn well,” replied Blackie. They sat silently waiting for Mr. Ben. In a few minutes he appeared at the door.
“Hop down and stand to the side there boy,” whispered Blackie as he stepped down to the side of the horses.
“Give me those reins Blackie,” said Ben. And turning to Bo he
added, “Hop right up here next to me, let’s go on down to the cotton fields.”
“Pardon me Mr. Ben but wouldn’t it be a better thing for him to ride in the back,” Blackie bravely suggested.
“I know what you mean Blackie, but this is my plantation, I reckon I can decide where a boy sits,” replied Ben.
“Yes, sir it surely is your place, if that’s what you decide it will surely be fine by Ol’ Blackie,” said Blackie.
“Now Blackie we won’t be needing you here any longer, you might ought to get back to sharpening those hoes. Lord knows we grow more weeds than cotton,” said Ben.
“Yes, sir Mr. Ben, I know you right. I got plenty to be doing in the shop better than flapping my lips and trying to tell you how to manage your Negroes,” said Blackie, turning to leave.
“Now Blackie, I appreciate you trying to make sure nobody gets out of line. Don’t take any concern for what you said. I just believe I know what I’m doing. This boy might have a talent for farming. If he does, I know I could use a strong smart young man to assist me around here,” Ben replied.
“Yes, sir, but I best be getting on back to those hoes, y’all have a real pleasant day,” with that Blackie walked on back to the blacksmith shed.
Ben turned to Bo, who was now seated up on the padded leather bench next to his father, “Bo, Blackie is right about one thing. I don’t deny who your father is, but no matter what we do or where we go, to other people, you will always just be a light skinned Negro. Remember that and it will save you a great deal of grief in your life.”
“Yes, sir, I ain’t never thought I wasn’t,” replied Bo.
“Alright then, let’s get on down to the fields,” said Ben, flicking the reins and causing the team of horses to pull away. Bo watched how well his father handled the animals. Ben made the horses turn and slow down or speed up as the path required so effortless, Bo sat entranced. He stayed so engrossed on the big beasts and his father’s hands, he was somewhat surprised when they pulled up to a stop in front of the overseer’s post.
“Good morning, William,” Ben called down without dismounted the wagon.
“Good morning Mr. Ben,” replied William, standing up straight from where he had been sitting.
“William, stay after them to keep those weeds cleared out. I can see more than cotton on rows they’ve already chopped,” added Ben.
“Yes, sir, I’ll see to it right away. Did you me bring another little chopper?” asked William, jerking his chin toward Bo.
“No, William, I think he’s already chopped cotton for you. I’m looking to see if I can train myself a helper,” replied Ben.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Ben, he chopped a spell. At first I thought he was going to chop the cotton and grew you some fine weeds,” said William.
“Now William, I know there have been some changes in this old world in the past few years, but I haven’t changed. I am very serious about those folks getting all of the weeds out from around the cotton stalks. You know this is the time of year when the cotton has to take as much rain and good earth as it can get so as to make as some fine bolls in the fall,” lectured Ben.
“Yes, sir, soon as you say I’ll be going over there now and talking them straight,” replied William, a bit defensively.
“Now William, I haven’t changed in other ways either, I leave you to look after my Negroes. I expect hard work, but I expect you to take good care of them. If anyone has need of anything, you tell Blackie and he’ll pass it on to me,” added Ben.
“Yes, sir, we all appreciate working here on the Davis Plantation. Everybody out there in that field knows they could do no better anywhere else. If I need anything for the workers, I’ll surely ask him to add it to his need list. But we are all fine and strong and healthy, sir,” replied William, brightening.
“That’s fine William. Now tend to your people, we’ll be moving along,” said Ben, dismissing William.
Ben turned the wagon southward and eased past the last break of uncleared trees. The spring sun filled the air with thick vapor drifting up off the river. The line of trees held the moisture between the river and the bottom of the hill.
“Bo, this would be a rich piece of land if only we could get it planted early enough. The river floods here in the winter and spring. The flood waters carry good earth from off the hillsides and drops it right here. But those same floods make the ground too wet to plow in April when we need to get the cotton in the ground. Someday I’m going to figure out a way to get full measure from this land. There has got to be a way,” said Ben.
“Yes, sir, but what do you mean? Too wet to plow, don’t the Negroes use hoes to make the furrows? Is it too wet to walk on?” asked Bo.
“Well, yes they do use hoes when planting, but first we have to break up the old ground with horses and a breaking plow. And horses are a lot heavier than people and will bog down to the shoulder. You keep thinking on that, maybe you’ll see something I have missed. Like I told your Mother, I need a good assistant. You are a strong little man and you will grow to have a sturdy frame but you will have to use that smart brain of yours to be my best help,” explained Ben.
“Yes, sir, I’ll think on that real hard,” said Bo solemnly.
Ben turned the horses back up to the main house and Bo rode in quiet pride beside his father. As they drew up in front of the front porch, Ben stepped down and looped the leads for the horses around a post.
“Bo, go tell Blackie we are back and help him with these animals and the wagon. When you’ve finished, wash up good at the pump and come up to my study. All farming isn’t done in the fields,” said Ben.
“Like I told you, you have to use your brain as much or more than your back to run a place like this,” explained Ben.
“Yes, sir,” said Bo as he took off for the stables. A few minutes later a slightly damp Bo tapped on the heavy door leading into Ben’s study.
“Come in Bo … oh go get a towel and dry a little better boy. There are important papers we are going to look at together,” instructed Ben.
“Yes, sir,” replied Bo, returning to the kitchen to get a cloth from his mother.
“Now Bo, office work ain’t like no field work or even kitchen help. Whenever you go in that room, make sure your are freshly washed and dried. Make sure that your hands and your clothes are clean,” scolded May.
“Yes, Mama,” said Bo carefully drying his hands.
“Now run along, don’t keep Mr. Ben waiting,” concluded May.
When Bo returned Ben had a plat map of the plantation laid out on the heavy table under the window. “Ah, there you are, come over here,” said Ben.
As the pair studied the drawing Ben explained how he wanted to finish clearing the delta and dig trenches to drain it back into the river. The problem was every spring the trenches would silt in with flood water and would have to be redug by hand.
Even Negroes, who had little option in the matter, would balk at digging out the mucked ditches over and over every year. Ben was also worried about snake bites and other injuries to his work force in late spring when he would already be at a critical point in his labor supply.
“Why not drain the ditches towards a pond we could dig towards the hill instead?” asked little Bo.
“Why not indeed?” repeated Ben, “That is a good idea. It’d mean a great deal of digging but it would be work that be easier to repair.”
“We could dig the trenches in the fall, the river would refresh the pond in winter and, of course, silt in the channels, but I believe the silt would be higher on the river side,” continued Bo.
“You are exactly right,” added Ben, “a few men in less than a week could reopen the path to the pond, and we would have water to release back into the channels simply be digging them out further as the dry summer months returned. Boy, I believe I was right about you. Now why don’t you go help your mother the rest of the day.”
“I have some calculating to do. In the morning, after you help your mother get breakfast, come back up here. We can discuss this further.”
Over the next ten years Bo took to farming and worked side by side with his father. Ben was as proud of Bo as any father. Ben was so proud, he never noticed Ben Jr.’s seething envy.
Little Brothers 1867 – 1875
Ben Davis Jr. was a junior in name only, bookish with pale soft hands and limp blond hair. The black folk called him Missy Jr. when he was out of earshot. Luther was looking more like his mother too. They both looked to May for mothering, though they did not see themselves as actual brothers.
In 1867 Ben Davis hired a young lady named Evelyn White to tutor Ben Jr. Most of the time Bo was with Ben Sr. and often Luther stayed in the kitchen and helped May. One day Evelyn was discussing little Ben’s progress with his father.
“Well sir, I believe he misses his little playmate,” said Evelyn.
“Luther?” asked Ben.
“Yes sir, I think he has a hard time focusing on his lessons because Luther isn’t there,” she answered.
“Are you suggesting we teach the little Negro boy to read and do arithmetic?” asked Ben.
“Sir, I’m not suggesting anything. I am only giving you my professional observation. But I might point out that a learned Negro is of value to a plantation and it wouldn’t be any extra trouble on my account,” she continued.
“But what about Ben’s lessons, wouldn’t another pupil mean that you would have less time for Ben,” he asked.
“Well sir, I focus on Ben’s needs and let Luther catch as catch can. He would pick up enough to learn the basics. I think we could establish ground rules that only Ben could ask questions. Maybe that would help. Also Ben’s lessons are only a few hours each day, this way he would have a fellow student with whom to discuss the day’s lesson.
I believe on the whole, it would be worth the risk, and we could always tell Luther he was just doing this for a little while and if it didn’t work out we could send him back to the kitchen,” said Evelyn.
“Well I suppose if you think it’s a good idea. My two main concerns is that Ben’s education not be compromised by a second student and a Negro no less and that we don’t start Luther and then decide against the process and I create a discontented Negro,” explained Ben.
“You have my word that Ben will not receive any less training than he is now getting. As to the second point, I do believe it is safe to assume that a Negro will not learn anymore ‘book learning’ than he is required. If we send him back to the kitchen he’ll be just as happy as he was before,” assured Evelyn.
“Alright, let’s try it for a week or two and see if it helps Ben stay on his lesson. But you know if we are going to start educating Negroes, the one I need educated is Bo. He seems to have a real head for farming but it gets tiring having to read for him. Do you think you could teach Bo?” asked Ben.
“I’m sure I could teach Bo to read and to add and subtract, but I don’t think he would be helpful to Ben’s learning,” replied Evelyn.
“Luther would but not Bo?” asked Ben.
“That is correct sir. Luther and Ben are playmates. I detect a little strain between the older boy and your son. I also believe three boys and especially two Negroes would be a hard class over which to keep discipline. Maybe as Bo works with you most of the time I give Ben’s lessons, I could spend an hour in the afternoon a couple of days each week with Bo alone,” suggested Evelyn.
“Yes maybe you are right. I will discuss this with May. I don’t believe she’ll have a problem with our plans though. She might miss Luther’s helping hands in the kitchen, but there are others and he can always do his chores before or after class,” concluded Ben.
“If that is all sir, I’ll be going. I need to see if I have any old spare lesson books,” said Evelyn rising to go.
“Yes, yes just remember you were hired to give Ben and education, not open a Negro school,” Ben said with a dismissive flick of his hand as he rose in politeness.
“May, I think little Ben needs some company in Miss Evelyn’s classes,” said Ben, standing in the doorway to the kitchen.
May looked up from the okra she was battering, “What do you mean Mr. Ben?”
“Miss Evelyn thinks Luther should come to class with Ben, it might help Ben to study. She thinks he misses his playmate,” continued Ben.
“Now I sure would like to help little Ben, you know I love him like my own, but is it right for Luther to be studying like that with a white child? You know I’d be happy for my boy to learn to read and write but lord knows I don’t want him getting in no trouble later on,” said May.
“Now May I know what you are thinking, I’ve discussed this already with Miss Evelyn, she will keep Luther in his place. And your boys are smart enough not to get too uppity,” Ben replied.
“If you say so, I’ll be after him to keep his place and not be trouble,” agreed May.
“I’m also thinking of letting her tutor Bo in the afternoons when he’s through helping me. It would be so much better for me if he could read and do arithmetic,” continued Ben.
“Mr. Ben I know you know what you doing, but I am powerful concerned about how folks off of this hill might take to this learning,” said May.
“May, times have changed, many farmers are educating some of their Negroes. A smart Negro can be very useful. And both of those boys are very smart already. Don’t you worry, I wouldn’t do anything to hurt those boys,” concluded Ben.
“Yes sir, I know you are good to my boys, and I thank you,” said May as Ben turned to go.
Until Evelyn White’s departure nearly three years later, Ben, Bo and Luther learned as much as she could teach them. Not only was Ben able to focus more on his lesson because he no longer missed Luther, their sibling competitiveness made them challenge each other to excel. By the third year they were reading and reciting Homer, Shakespeare and the Bible.
Bo learned to read well enough but his interests were in math and science. He often took one of his father’s books to his room and read until dawn.
In 1870 a visitor changed the future for the young boys. Ben Davis’ nephew came up from Biloxi and before he returned home Evelyn had agreed to go with him as his wife.
After a few years of trying without producing a child, Evelyn dedicated herself to educating the children and grandchildren of former slaves in South Mississippi. Her experiences at Davis Hill had overcome her prejudices towards the Negroes’ ability and desire to learn.
Davis Hill acquired the services of Mary Adams as the new teacher. When Ben came to lessons the first day, Luther tagged along as usual.
“I don’t think Puck was a fairy at all,” postulated Luther.
“And what makes you say that?” asked Ben.
“Well he so much like a real little boy, I think it is a trick Shakespeare was playing on the audience,” answered Luther.
“I don’t care what a ignorant Negro boy thinks about Shakespeare or much of anything else,” said Miss Adams. “All I know for sure is that I will not be teaching a class with a Negro in it. Get up and get back to your chores,” she added.
“But Miss Adams, he always comes to my lessons. Ms White said it helped me learn,” interjected Ben.
Miss Adams turned pale, then reddened, “I do not care what Ms White did, and I will not have you challenging my word, Master Ben. The Negro goes. Now get out of here!” she said, turning back to Luther.
“Yes’m,” said Luther, getting up and quickly heading for the door.
“But Miss Adams, my father approved of Luther being in my class,” insisted young Ben.
“Master Ben, I will not stand for this kind of behavior. Educating Negroes is dangerous and just plain wrong. If your father and the woman who preceded me failed to understand that, that is their shortcoming. And furthermore, you may be the young master around here, but as long as I am your instructor, and as long as you are in my care, you will obey me and not contradict me. I will not hesitate to educate you with a rod as well as a book. Do I make myself clear?” lectured the new teacher.
“Yes’m, I suppose so,” said Ben glumly.
“Do not address me with ‘Yes’m’, you sound like the little Negro. “Yes Ma’am,” or better yet, “Yes, Miss Adams,” she added, sternly.
“Yes, Miss Adams,” said Ben weakly.
After the day’s lessons, both Ben, Jr. and Miss Adams spoke to Ben, Sr. independently of one another. Ben agreed to have Luther go back to household chores and reinforced Ms Adams’ stand to little Ben.
She proved an excellent instructor for young Ben. Her training in the classics and history prepared Ben to attend Harvard after his sixteenth birthday.
Ben Sr. continued to encourage Bo to use his library as his own and though the new tutor would not have approved, Luther had access to the books as well.
Luther continued to be Ben’s companion, becoming his valet as they matured. Ben grew ever more aloof under Mary’s tutelage. Luther understood his role was to be an aide not an equal to his white brother. Ben eventually ceased discussing books and philosophy with Luther and sealed off a part of the friendship they had as young boys.
Bobby, Dup and the boys had been drinking and playing poker since sunset. Bobby was losing and getting nasty. His slender fingers stubbed out a Winston in the overflowing ashtray. The old bungalow had a kitchen fireplace and Dup had started a fire in the early afternoon chill. Now the room had the near unbearable heat of the fire, the sweat of unwashed whisky drinkers.
“Dup open a window goddamnit,” swore Bobby. Dup stuck his cards in his pocket and creaked open the kitchen window as well as the one in the front room.
“Why don’t you just put the fire out?” Bobby growled.
Dup looked hurt, “‘Cause if’n I do you just cuss me cause its cold in here when you get ready to sleep.”
“Well, I ain’t sleeping now. All I seem to be able to do tonight is lose my money,” replied Bobby.
John Milan spoke up, he wasn’t having any better luck than Bobby but as a weak member of the group hadn’t felt like he had any options but to sit there and give away his money, “them dogs of yours are probably getting hungry for some dark meat Bobby, why don’t we go catch us a nigger?”
“Well that sounds like a better idea than this stupid poker,” said Bobby.
“Where we gonna catch one this time a night?” asked Bobby, who preferred cards to the cold night air or the blood sport of running down another human.
“Bobby, you greedy or just chicken?” Bobby grinned.
“This is the best time, if you find one, he’s gonna be doin’ something he ain’t s’posed to be doin’ and doin’ it somewhere he ain’t s’posed to be. Sure won’t be nobody looking for him,” he added.
“I’m with Bobby,” said Dup. Not only did Dup work hard at staying in good with his white cousin, he actually liked the hunting, the blood and the whole thing of doing something you knew was wrong and getting away with it. The heat and anger dripped sweat down around his eyes.
“Dup, get the truck,” he said as he gulped down the last ounce of whiskey in his tumbler. The gentle sipping of bourbon in 1860 had given away to hard, bitter drinking five generations down the family tree.
The boys stuffed their crumpled bills into various pockets. The kitchen clock read 12:46 as they followed Bobby out on to the front porch. Dup pulled up and the boys climbed into the back.
A drunk but alert Bobby eased into the cab beside Dup and clanged the creaky door shut.
“Which way, boss?” asked Dup. Bobby lit a cigarette in the dark, striking a match on the metal Ford dash. “Anywhere, just drive around ”til we see a stupid nigger.”
Joe Cooley grew up in Prattville, the grandson of slaves and a child of a man who had worked all his life at Mr. Pratt’s gin for dirt-farmer wages. But being black in Prattville meant any steady work was a good thing.
Joe met a beauty named Rose when he got a job washing dishes at Morrison’s in Montgomery. She worked in the kitchen stirring up massive vats of food to be served on the restaurants endless buffet. Washing dishes paid good and Montgomery was better than Prattville, for sure.
Shortly after he started there, Rose had to go back to Davis Hill to help her dying mama. With her mama gone, Rose got the house. It wasn’t much, three rooms on a half acre, but it was a place. Her place.
Sometimes Joe stayed in Montgomery but mostly he hitched a ride back to Prattville every night. He would get up about 9 a.m. to start heading towards Montgomery and always caught a ride in time to get to Morrison’s by 11 where he sweated over hot steel sinks until well after supper.
To unloving eyes, Rose was skinny, hard and losing her youth at twenty-five. She had stringy hair and wrinkles were already starting to form around her eyes and mouth. Her face was scarred from a drunk who carried her off to Mobile when she was sixteen. Like Joe, she wanted to escape but Mobile had turned into one long beating.
She drifted back home and was treated like dirt by her mother. She let Rose stay with her, but she felt she had disgraced the family, as much by coming back as by running away. Shame was close to hatred.
Joe didn’t see the bony body or the ragged face. He saw strength. Rose was tough, and when she put her hands on his black skin he felt like a man for the first time in his nineteen years.
No more “boy,” as everyone who didn’t just say “hey nigger,” called him all day.
So when she told him he could stay with her on a Sunday afternoon when he had caught a ride over to see her, and that he could catch a steady ride with her uncle who worked the same hours, he moved. No more Prattville and no more staying in Montgomery if he could help it.
But it was Friday and Morrison’s had an All-You-Can-Eat night. He scraped food off white folks plates until nearly midnight. The uncle was long gone. It took forever to catch a ride.
Finally he got as far as the main road that ran past Davis Hill. Joe was nearly asleep on his feet when the old Ford pick-up slowed down beside him a quarter mile from Rose’s.
A half dozen white guys weren’t out doing charity work at this time of night. Joe forgot about being tired and thought about dying and Rose and being tough. His heavy work shoes flew over the dirt shoulder into the woods, taking a short-cut he would not have taken at night except for the yells from the truck. He raced through the dark, tripping a time or two but already running before he was good straightened up.
He made it in the front of the little house as the Ford barreled up the path. He got a quick, wild look at Rose and darted out the back into the woods as Bobby smashed a drunken fist on the door .
“Come out here, nigger.”
“Open this damn door.”
Bang. Bang. Rose went to the door, “What do you want?”
“That nigger that just ran in here.”
“I’m the only nigger here,” Rose answered. Bobby took a swing at her and as she backed away he came through the door. Rose’s clean little cottage was a sharp contrast to the pig-sty that he had turned Betty’s bungalow into in a few months of total neglect.
“Filthy nigger,” he screamed. He looked around for the man he had planned to turn into dog food.
“Get out of my house,” Rose said calmly.
“You want me out of this hut? This whole damn hill is mine by right. I ain’t going anywhere until I find that nigger.”
“I’m the only nigger here.” Rose repeated.
“Then you’ll have to do,” Bobby snarled.
He grabbed Rose’s skinny shoulders and shook her. She spat at him. Bobby picked her up by the shoulders and slammed her down on the bed.
“Get out!” Rose screamed futilely.
Bobby took his left hand and grabbed the front of her dress at the collar. With one motion he ripped the buttons off, top to bottom.
Rose struggled and spat again. Bobby didn’t even notice. He didn’t even seem to see the small struggling woman underneath him as he penetrated her. He was raping every black soul that ever walked the earth. He pounded into her the rage of all the disgraces, real and imagined, his family had suffered in the past hundred years.
When he was finished, his mind cleared a little and he looked down at her in disgust. He pulled out and started buttoning his fly as he walked towards the door.
Without turning around, he called out, “We’ll get your nigger, bitch.”
He stepped out onto the porch said to Dup, “Let’s go home, he got away.”
The boys in the back groaned.
“Shut up, you assholes, the party’s over,” he said.
After the truck left, Joe eased back out of the woods. He walked up to the back door and tapped softly, “Rose, baby? You alright in there?”
She opened the door and lied.
“Yeah, I’m fine, they was going to kill you, you know.” She didn’t say anything about the rape or about Joe leading the monsters to her door and then running. She knew the fact of living here. Everything was set against the colored man, if he stood up he was cut down. If ran, he lost his manhood. Rose needed Joe as much he needed her. He held her close. Joe tried not to think about what happened while he was in the woods.
“Let’s get some sleep,” said Rose. They undressed in the dark of the cabin and lay down quietly, staring into the black air up towards a ceiling they could not see. Rose finally heard Joe snoring. She slipped out of bed and began to make breakfast. She had to get Joe off to work, she could cry later. She would have to think later, too. That crazy Jones man would be back, for more of what he got and to kill Joe. Who could she tell, who could protect them? Nobody.
The colored folks were powerless and even the ‘good’ white folks wouldn’t raise a hand to protect a Negro. The old system, with all its flaws, offered some safety.
A white man, a farmer would protect ‘his niggers’ but she and Joe didn’t ‘belong’ to anybody. They were free standing and expendable.
The sheriff was related to Bobby and Morrison’s wasn’t going to send someone up to Davis hill to protect a dishwasher. Joe was a good worker, but there were more colored folks than decent jobs. He could be replaced in a minute.
“Come get your breakfast,” she called into the sleeping man. He stirred, stepped out back and relieved himself, tapped the thin layer of ice off the top of the barrel and washed his face in the rain water outside of the door.
“Mmm, that sure smells fine,” he said giving Rose a kiss on the check as she filled his plate from the stove.
“Joe, last night was a close call, they’ll be back,” Rose answered.
“Aw, they just a bunch of worthless drunks, they’ll forgot they was ever here,” said Joe with a mouth full of biscuit.
“Maybe, maybe not,” said Rose, thinking she wouldn’t forget they had been there for a long, long time.
“We can’t be taking no chances, though. I think on Fridays if my uncle won’t stick around, you best stay in Montgomery,” she added.
“They got bad folks in Montgomery, too. I rather come home to you,” said Joe.
“That’s true, sure enough, Joe, and I like for you to be here every night, too. But I mean it, something bad is going on this hill. Three men folks is missing since summer and I’m thinking that Jones man got something to do with it.”
“Anyway, I can’t prove nothing, but you listen to me, I mean for you to not be walking on the roads late at night up here. You get a ride or you stay down there. You hear me?” Rose persisted.
Joe finished his plate, stood up and said, “Alright Rose, I’ll be going now. You know you always get your way. I’ll get a ride next Friday or stay in town. Let’s not talk about it no more.”
Rose kissed him, “you know I’m gonna worry anyway, you be careful and come home tonight.” With that Joe walked out and climbed into the ’50 Ford sedan idling in the front yard.
“Morning, Joe,” said the man behind the wheel.
“Morning,” replied Joe.
The Accident 1880
Bo took to running his father’s errands, delivering his messages to Blackie and William. By the time Bo was seventeen Ben rarely spoke to the negroes in the fields. Bo continued to learn the business of running a plantation in the ‘free south’ that followed the war. He always worked to maximize the efficiency of the overall operations. The bottom land remained a tempting fruit to both he and Ben.
Over the years they discussed the drainage system Bo had suggested that first day with his father. They even had the hands dig the trenches and the pond. It had helped. They could consistently start plowing at least a week earlier than the other river farmers. Every week added to the front of the growing season in the spring greatly impacted the quality and quantity of the crops. Bo was proud his idea had improved the land use, but both men knew there was more time to be gained. The problem of wet, boggy soil and heavy horse on relatively small feet. There was no subsoil to speak of, only topsoil for many feet rich for cotton but as soft as a pillow for standing.
They tried a snowshoe style of horseshoe but the poor horses became mired as the shoes built up mud.
“If only we could get the horses up away from the mud, they could pull the plow,” Bo said to his father.
“Well I don’t think we can teach them to fly,” answered his father.
“No I guess not, but I was thinking of the ferry horses I’ve heard you and your friends speak of,” continued Bo.
“What would you do with a ferry horse?” asked his father.
“Not the horse but the ferry. What if we built a platform sturdy enough for the horses to stand on, harnessed them to the leading edge of the platform, let them walk on a rolling pad that was attached to huge shipping casks. Then we could attach a plow to the back of the platform,” said Bo, getting a little excited as he explained his idea.
“I don’t know Bo, maybe you should sketch it up for me this evening and we can discuss it in the morning,” said Ben.
“Yes sir, I’ll do that tonight,” said Bo.
That evening Bo retired to Ben’s office as soon as he finished supper at the little table in the kitchen while Luther started the fire under the dish washing pot and May cleared the table for Ben Sr., little Ben and Ms Adams. He lit the lamp and sat for a moment to gather his thoughts, for his mind was racing as it often did when he had a new idea. He knew he was very fortunate to have the plantations resources at his disposal and never took the privilege lightly. “First, I would use lashed timbers for the platform as that will give it strength without adding extra weight,” he thought, as he unrolled a large sheet of paper.
“And we can use a woven cloth belt like they use at the gin to run the pulley,” he muttered as he dipped his father’s pen in the ink pot and began to sketch.
“We can use timbers for the axles and we will have two casks on each axle with a wagon wheel in the center to act as pulley,” he added excitedly and he drew that in. “If I put scraper blades against the edge of each cask, it will keep the gumbo from building up as it goes along. With self cleaning casks for wheels, the horses could pull all day without having to stop!”
Bo tried to calm himself but it occurred to him that he might be drawing a truly revolutionary piece of farming equipment. He finished the sketch, cleaned the pen and closed the ink pot. He went out of the office, leaving the lamp burning because he so excited that had to show his father the plans immediately. He went to the drawing room and knocked softly.
“Honey, Mr. Davis has already gone to bed, and I reckon you ought to be doing the same. It’s late,” spoke his mother from the behind him in the hallway.
“Yes’m, I was going to show him something I drew tonight,” said Bo.
“I would like to see it if you don’t mind showing it to your mother,” May replied. They went back to the office where May looked at the sketch as Bo explained every detail.
“Well I don’t know about all that fancy pulleys and such, but it looks real fine. But it is time for us to be going over to our side of the house,” said May, snuffing out the lamp.
The next morning Ben was pleased to see the drawings. He could better visualize the machine. He made a few suggestions like adding a scraper blade to the hind edge of the rolling barrels to keep the mud from building up and clogging the plow.
Ben and Bo worked together to design a pulleyed bottom plow. By rigging belts and pulleys the team of horses could walk treadmill style above the muck rolling on barrels and pulling a blade through the clay gumbo still soggy from the winter floods of the Alabama river just south of Davis Hill.
Davis Hill is a bluff between Wetumpka and Montgomery, the actual very end of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the red clay embankments give way to the delta flood lands, the Davis’ farmed 2000 acres of the richest earth in the state.
The “floating plow” as Ben called it, would give them 2-3 weeks advantage on planting and that greatly increase their cotton production as cotton does its best growing before the killing heat of late summer.
The first week of April 1880 was particularly mucky, but winter had already broke so both Ben and Bo were down in the bottom land trying to float out furrows.
They hitched the team of horses to the plow and let them drag it to the edge of the soft river flood delta. Then Bo handed down the breaking plow blade to Ben. After much coaxing, Bo was able to lead the horses up to the top of the platform where he secured them to a rail at the leading edge of the movable pad. Together Ben and Bo fastened the plow to the back of the platform and climbed up to guide the horses.
At first all went smoothly, they were able to keep the horses walking at a steady pace. They managed to make several passes across some of the drier parts of the wet field. To turn the plow, Ben had designed a crude differential, a rod that the driver would lean on to push the pulley away from one set of barrels and towards the other, this allowed one side to turn faster and let the floating plow be steered.
As they turned around to line up in the wetter area, the plow bogged down nearly a foot into the mud. As the barrels sank, the mud was slung up onto the gearing inside the platform.
Bo hopped over the side and began to try to clear the rolling barrels of mud that hung like paste nearly a half of a foot thick.
The scraping blades had failed. The muck held stones and small sticks missed by the clearing teams. Normally the plow just flips them out of the way, but with the floating plow, they were in the field early and the wet ground held everything together. The debris wedged between the casks and the scrapers. The scrapers simply could not withstand the strain.
The rear scrapers were gone and the front set had worked loose enough to let the muck cake up. As Bo scraped, Ben went down inside the machine to unmuck the gearing.
Eventually Bo finished the exterior cleaning and climbed back aboard.
“How is it looking down there, Sir?” he asked peering through the openings in the platform. “It was a mess, we’ve still got some work to do to get this plow workable, but I think we are on the right track,” answered Ben.
“Yes sir, are you through down there?” asked Bo.
“I think its ready, I’m going to stay down here and see how well its working. Start the horses again, added Ben.
“Yes Sir,” said Bo, then he commanded the horses to move. When he did Ben slipped between the barrels and the bottom line of belts. Ben screamed. By the time Bo could stop the horses, Ben was crushed to death. At first Bo was shaken with the loss but it only took a moment for him realize this would be the perfect excuse Ben Jr. had been looking for to stretch Bo’s neck out and watch him dangle.
In a dead run, he went straight up out of the bog, across the bluff and still tracking mud he went through the front door and back to the kitchen.
“Mama, Daddy is dead!,” he blurted to a stunned May. “I killed him! It was an accident, he fell in the belts and I didn’t see him until it was too late. Oh my God, Momma, what do I do?”
May’s mind didn’t take much time to figure out precisely what her boy had to do if he was to stay alive.
“Get a horse and take a hundred dollars from under the mantle piece and go. I love you Bo but don’t ever come back or write or even speak of Ben, Luther, Ben Jr. or me or even Davis Hill. You hear? Now Go!”
The Train North 1880
Bo was stunned at May telling him to leave. It wasn’t fair. This should have been his place, he should be able to stay and grieve his father, but she was right. He took the money and the horse and made Clanton’s Crossing by dark. He found a friendly negro at Clanton Plantation and slept in a barn. Before daylight he was riding north to Birmingham. A $ 5.00 ticket took him to Cincinnati by L & N rail.
When he boarded the conductor asked, “Could I have your ticket, Sir?” He started to lead him into the regular passenger car.
Bo stopped him. “Oh no sir, I’m colored.”
“Well but of course boy,” the flustered conductor’s voice changed to a considerably less polite tone. Bo went back to the coloreds car and found a seat. An old black gentleman followed him and sat down across the aisle.
“You could have passed, you know.”
“Passed?” asked Bo. The term meant nothing to him.
“Yes, passing, don’t you know about passing?” queried the stranger.
“No sir, what’s passing?”
“Passing is being white even when you’re not, hi I’m James,” he offered his hand to Bo, “And who might you be?”
“I’m Bo, from uh, not from around here.”
“You in trouble son?” the old man asked. Bo explained what had happened, figuring this black man wasn’t looking to cause him any trouble.
“How far you going?”
Bo thought for a moment, “I bought a ticket to Cincinnati, is that far enough?”
“That will do just fine, I run a “brown bag” club in St. Louis, but I’m going to see some folks in Cincinnati. What do you plan to do there?”
Bo was stumped, “I hadn’t planned that far, I was just trying to get north.”
“Look you’re whiter than any negro I ever met, I could help you to pass, if you’d like to try.”
“I don’t know about that, sounds like trouble to me,” thought Bo, out loud.
Passing would get anybody killed in Alabama if they got caught. Bo had never been anywhere that people didn’t know him.
James studied Bo, “It could be, if you got caught. And if you don’t, well, look at that…” He smiled at Bo, letting the image sink in.
“But if you let me help you, you won’t have any trouble.”
“Why would you want to help me pass?” Bo wanted to know.
He could see why he might want to try it, but he wondered at this unsolicited offer, what would James get out of it?
“We are coming up quick, ever since 1865, but coloreds are going to be colored for a long time and everyone of them that is seen as a white man can get ahead a lot quicker. Don’t think you would go to bed one night a negro and wake up as the President. We will have to train you, then you get a story and start out somewhere. As you move up you help us out along the way.”
“Get a story?” asked Bo.
“Sure if you learned the law, I’d get you a degree from Harvard and nobody would ever ask you a question about it.”
“I don’t think I could learn lawyering,” replied Bo, “and I’d be scared to pretend.”
“You think we can’t make you a good enough story for white folks to believe you, just cause we’re colored?”
That was exactly what Bo was thinking, but he didn’t know how to bring it up, “It’s a white man’s world.”
“Exactly, if you learn how to act white and you learn to look the white man dead in the eye like you got nothing to hide, you’re fine. The white man isn’t looking for a black man behind your white skin and green eyes.”
“What would I do?” asked Bo.
“First you need a servant, no black man has a servant, I know you’re thinking, you can’t afford one, don’t worry, you just got a servant, me,” offered James.
“Now I can’t stay in Cincinnati forever. I have a business in St. Louis, like I told you,” added James, “when we get there I’ll take you to some friends and they will finish your schooling. You can read can’t you?”
Bo’s head was spinning, from a runaway negro to a white man just like that, was it possible? “Yes I can read, I can do books, too. I did them on my daddy’s plantation.”
“Well, that’s fine, we can get you started in a bank, lord knows, colored folks could use a friendly banker… Look when we get to Cincinnati you tell me, ‘boy get my bags and find us a taxi cart,’ here’s a dollar,” James said, holding out a coin.
“It won’t cost but a quarter, but you want to look like you carry a little money.”
Bo looked at the money, “No sir I don’t need it. I brought some money of my own.” He opened his wallet showing James ninety-four dollars and some change.
“Lord boy, put that away quick before someone sees it,” James looked sincerely concerned.
“Sorry, that is the last time I call you boy, Yes sir, Mr. Bo Davis.”
Bo had never heard anyone call him sir, or Mr. anything.
He thought he liked the sound of it. Before they stepped off the train James leaned in close to Bo, “Now the first thing to remember is how to walk. Walk like your not afraid of no white man.
Hold your shoulders back keep your head up and look
strangers in the eye, friendly like, but look at them. And don’t talk too much, we will get you trained on talking too, but right now you open your mouth and negro comes jumping out.”
The Train to Biloxi 1880
Ben Junior awoke with a start. What a dream. No, it was real. Ben was dead and Bo was gone. The April sun was shining through the bedroom window. May had already been up and opened his curtains. He left the wake about midnight and set on his bed drinking Old Ben’s whiskey until he fell asleep. His lamp had burnt out sometime earlier. The bottle was dry. The whiskey was gone. Someone was doing carpentry work inside his skull. May pushed the solid oak door open with her foot. She was carrying a silver tray. The tray had black coffee and biscuits and gravy. The smell of the hot biscuits usually woke him. Today it only made the whiskey come back up.
“May, take that damn food away but leave the coffee. Bring me the pot.”
His stepmother leaned over the bed and pulled out the porcelain bowl, set the coffee on the bed table, picked up the tray with only “Yes, Mr. Ben. Good morning, sir.”
“May, send Luther in here.”
“One more thing, May, you can’t call me Mr. Ben. Every other colored on this place can and will but you call me Ben, you hear?”
She was right, of course, he was Mr. Ben of Davis Hill but he just couldn’t let May call him that. The tradition of ninety-year old men saying “Sir” to a white adolescent boy and of the adolescent to answer “boy” did not bother him but May was almost his mother.
“Now run along and send Luther right away.”
Ben sipped coffee for a moment. The carpenters hadn’t stopped but talking to May had taken a little steam off their hammers. Ben relieved himself and toed the pot back under the bed. May returned with a pitcher of hot water.
“Ben, you want to shave?”
“Yes, May. Pour it. Where’s Luther?”
“I sent the girl after him.” The girl was Old Ben’s most recent fuzzy thirteen year old. Thank god she wasn’t pregnant but she still presented a problem.
“May, what we going to do about Daddy’s little girl?”
“Well, I’m gonna get old some day. She can stay on and learn how to make a living like an honorable woman, standing up.”
Ben half laughed. “Yeah, May, you sure learned.” May wasn’t hurt, she wasn’t ashamed either. She was a slave when Old Ben started with her and she made a fine housekeeper these last fifteen years.
“I best be going now, Mr. Ben. Your shaving waters a getting cold.”
Ben was nearly finished shaving when Luther tapped at the door.
Luther looked concerned. His round face was tight and gray.
“Bo took a horse and a hundred dollars, Mr. Ben.”
“Let Bo go, Luther. He needs the horse and money more than me. In fact, I want you to take a horse and some money, too,” Ben continued.
“You sending me away?”
“Yes, to Montgomery to catch a train to Mobile and then another to Biloxi. There’s a two o’clock train. If you hurry you can catch the ferry and make that train. I want Dad buried as soon as possible but Old Uncle Jeff’s folks will want to come.
Take a hundred dollars and I’ll write you a note so folks will know you’re on my business and will leave you alone. Now Luther I want you in Biloxi tomorrow night. You come back the next day with whoever’s coming. Daddy won’t keep past Sunday.”
“Sure will, sir, I’ll be leaving in ten minutes.”
The bottom land would have been uncrossable at the speed necessary to reach Montgomery in time for the train. There was a stone bridge built by slaves during the civil war to get Confederate troops and supplies quickly north out of Montgomery.
It took Luther less than two hours to reach the ferry. The ferry was sitting tied up across the river when he pulled up to the bank.
He got out an oat bag for his sweaty horse and slowly rolled himself a cigarette. As the ferry crept back through he muddy river, Luther wondered what Mobile looked like. Would he get close enough to the ocean to see it.
When the ferry bumped the dock, Luther roused himself from his dreaming.
“Sir, I need you to go right back to the train station. I’m on business for Mr. Davis.”
He stuck out the piece of paper Ben had given him:
Please treat this negro as if he were
Mr. Ben Davis, Jr.
of Davis Hill Alabama.
He is on urgent family business for me.
– Mr. Ben Davis, Jr.
The boat man looked at the note. “Very well, but my horses have to rest a few minutes.”
“Yes, sir.” Luther lead his horse on to the ferry and soon they were plowing back toward the tall red brick building that was the train station. Luther paid the ferry and repeated the scene at the ticket master’s office.
“Fine,” said the station master, “But you can’t ride with the white folks.” Luther didn’t argue. He left his horse at the train livery barn explaining that he would return on Friday. Luther found a seat by a sleeping old gentleman on the colored car. May had packed some biscuits and slices of ham. Hunger overcame his excitement as he settled in so he ate them all. Luther knew about trains.
He had heard about them and had seen them skirting the river from the Hill but he was actually sitting inside a huge steel and wooden box with funny shaped windows. The locomotive moaned loud enough for Luther to hear it even though the coloreds rode well back behind the passenger cars, behind the dining car and the private coaches. The coloreds didn’t use the dining car. In truth most coloreds, even those who traveled, didn’t have money to spend for fine dining.
They were given the option of buying cheap boxed lunches from ladies who paid a large portion of the sales to the train line or bring their own discreetly, much as one might bring food into a theater. It was a thirty hour ride. Before Mobile Luther had to spend a dime of his funds. This he noted carefully along with the ferry charge, livery fee and train ticket. He didn’t want Ben Junior thinking he was wasting the most money he had ever been entrusted with.
Luther was packing away the napkin May had used to wrap his food when the train lurched and screeched. Yesterday at this time life was going pretty much as it always had.
Now his father was dead, his brother gone, his future very unsure and he had spent the day on an adventure that had already taken him further than he had ever traveled in his twenty year old life. Now he was being hurtled out of the brick station house in the bowels of a monstrous beast. Terrifying as it was, Luther was excited to find new experiences. He only wished he could have spaced them out a bit.
Soon the train settled into a rhythmic stride. As the hours passed, so did the central and south Alabama countryside. It was after midnight and after numerous refueling stops when the old L&N locomotive huffed to a stop in a building so much like the station in Montgomery that Luther worried for a moment that this had been a fantastic dream and they had never left. As he stepped out onto the colored’s platform which doubled as the freight dock for the entire train the muggy air from Mobile bay assured him that he was not in Montgomery.
The train to Biloxi would not leave until ten a.m. and one of the other passengers guided Luther to a group of shanties set up a few hundred yards from the tracks. Two more dimes and the old lady assured them that she would awaken them by nine the next morning.
Luther had never slept until nine in his life but he was so exhausted from his trek that it was five minutes after when the old lady’s banging on the side of the old metal wall shack with her cast iron skillet brought him to his feet. Hot and disoriented for a minute Luther could not imagine why he was in this dark shanty surrounded by strangers.
Then he remembered, gathered his bag and went to find the train.
The coastal route of GM&O lines connected Pensacola and New Orleans. Luther would get to see the ocean in the form of the Gulf of Mexico. It was several more hours as the train rode well up into the countryside, following solid earth before the line ran south to reach the small village of Pascagoula. From there to Biloxi, Luther could either see the Gulf or the extensive marshes just north of it. To his surprise the train ran almost down to the beach as it reached Biloxi. The train stopped at the depot at the southern end of Main Street.
Ben Junior had told him to go on into town and to hire a horse to ride out to Marseilles Petite. Luther did exactly that. Again he showed the note.
After a bit of consideration, the livery master said, “We don’t rent horses to darkies but I reckon this here Ben Davis, Jr. is old Ben Davis’ son, that right?”
“Yes, sir. Was, sir. Mr. Ben Davis died on account of an accident. I’m sent down here to tell the Jefferson Davis’ to come to the funeral.”
“You mean T. Jeff Davis, not the Jeff Davis, don’t you? Around here your Mr. Jeff Davis is known that way to avoid the confusion, explained the master.
“Yes sir, I suppose so, I really don’t know, back on Davis Hill they just called him Mr. Jeff Davis, but I reckon he ain’t the president one,” answered Luther, trying to sort it out without arguing with a white man.
“Well then, get along. You got any money?” asked the horseman.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Ben sent me with money,” replied Luther.
“Do you have a dollar?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Luther , pulling out his money.
“Well, that will be a dollar for the horse but you best have him back here by noon Thursday,” said the livery man sternly as he took the money.
“Yes sir,” said Luther as he replaced the remainder of his funds and followed the man towards the horses.
“Now you be sure to have the stable master at Marseilles Petite to take care of this horse while you are there. Have him remove the saddle and blanket as soon as you get there. I take good care of my horses. I don’t want any saddle sores or anything else wrong with the animal when you come back,” the man said.
“Now get on up and get out of here before one of my regular customers comes in and I have to explain to him why I’m doing business with a negro,” instructed the horseman.
“Yes sir,” repeated Luther, taking his travel pack and mounting the horse.
The road along the water was peaceful and fairly quiet. A black man on a horse drew no attention, so Luther was able to relax and enjoy his first real breaths of ocean air. Luther said nothing about the insults offered by the white man.
He knew his dark skin gave the man every legal right to refuse him service. The mere fact that he rented Luther a horse was enough. In this the home of the only Confederate President it would take nearly another century for a dark skinned man to dare to stand up as an equal and not feel the lash or the rope as his price for challenging this white mans’ world.
Emma 1880 – 1881
Luther rode along the coast highway back to Marseilles Petite. It was about three in the afternoon when he tied up the horse and walked up to the front door. A tall black man in tails answered the door. He looked at Luther a bit out of sorts. A colored man calling at the front entrance.
“I came to see Mr. Davis.” Luther said, handing him the note.
“Wait here.” Said the butler, closing the door without inviting him inside. In a few minutes he returned. “Mr. Davis will see you.”
Luther followed him through the house. Mr. Davis was seated on a wrought iron bench in the garden. He looked up from the note at Luther. The two men could have been brothers except that Mr. Davis was pale white to Luther’s lightly colored skin.
“Mr. Ben Davis is dead. He died Monday afternoon, sir. Mr. Davis Junior said you might be coming to the funeral. I’m to go back with whoever’s going.”
Mr. Davis stood up. “Your name?”
“Luther. Luther Davis, sir.”
“Okay, Luther, Joe will show you a place to go wash and get a little rest.”
Joe seemed to be the butler’s name. He led Luther out the back of the garden to a cottage where a woman was making dinner.
“This is Luther from Alabama. Mr. Davis wants him to stay with us tonight.”
“Yes, dear.” She said. Luther followed her to the back bedroom. “You’ll have to sleep with the boys, Luther.” She brought him a pitcher of fresh water. After washing his face, Luther slept. When he awakened a small boy was saying,
“Mister, Momma says you best come eat.”
The dinner was greens, corn bread and yams. His companions were Momma, two boys besides the little boy who had awakened him. Across the table sat the most beautiful girl Luther had ever seen.
Momma said “I’m Lilly, this is Joe, Bob, Frank and my daughter is Emma.”
Luther nodded to each letting his eyes rest on Emma as long as he thought decent. He pulled his eyes back to the food.
“Mr. Luther,” asked Bob, “Tell us about your trip.”
“Now Bob, Mr. Luther has had quite a trip. Let him eat, he needs his rest and some nourishment,” Lilly corrected.
“But Mama…,” insisted Bob.
“Enough Bob. maybe after supper Mr. Luther can tell us about it,” Lilly suggested. Luther looked at Emma, and wanted to do whatever he could to hold her attention.
“Actually Ma’am, I don’t mind, the spell of a nap I took and these good eats are bringing me back,” Luther said.
“Well, if you are sure, those boys have been after me since you got here,” said Lilly.
Luther recounted the entire saga between bites. When he caught Emma’s eyes on him his heart would stop. As the daylight bell rang for the field hands, Luther woke in the boys’ room. Lilly and Emma were busy already. Luther washed his face, pulled on his trousers, leaned through the door.
He asked where he could get some hot water to shave. Emma brought him a pitcher and he shaved on the wash stand. Luther repacked his bag and asked if he could be of any assistance. Lilly told him to go with Emma to the main house. There he helped Joe load bags onto the carriage. Mr. and Mrs. Davis were going as were Joe, Lilly, and Emma. The younger children would stay with an older lady who stayed on the plantation.
Emma was fifteen, had lived a life of relative ease for being a child in the post civil war era. She was born in that awkward period immediately following the peace. Former slaves pretty much fell into two camps: semi-slave or hungry rebellious free souls.
Poor white families nearly starved in the 1870s. Mr. Davis had offered to keep most of his slave on as employees. They received shelter and as good a diet as all but the most aristocratic families. In addition they received Deeds to one acre homesteads.
Joe and Lilly raised a garden on their plot and like most of the Davis help remained on the plantation as they had little money to build with.
Grown men got fifty cents a day in addition to food and shelter. Women received half that price. Most colored children worked too usually for about fifty cents per week, which went into the family funds.
Emma was like Luther Davis in more than name as Lilly had been concubine to Mr. Davis during slave days. After the war ended she left the main house, married Joe and worked in the wash house. The boys were Joe’s children with Lilly. After Emma reached twelve she began to work as Mrs. Davis’ chamber maid and neither seemed to mind the step-daughter/mother relationship.
Mrs. Davis knew the details but had come to the plantation after Lilly had moved out. Mrs. Davis actually enjoyed Emma’s company and, having no children of her own yet, doted on her. In her spare time she taught Emma to read and to play the violin in the classical European tradition. The other weren’t impressed with Emma’s violin playing, it didn’t have the life that Negro fiddle music jumped with but Mrs. Davis loved for Emma to play, which she did often.
Emma brought her violin on the train to Davis Hill and entertained the party whenever the train stopped for any length of time.
In Mobile on the return trip the Davis party stayed in the Semmes Grand Hotel on Government Street. Mobile was the first real city either Luther or Emma had ever seen. Luther’s previous pass through Montgomery only included the hundred yards from the ferry down to the train station. He didn’t get much of a look up Dexter Avenue.
When the Davis party disembarked from the train in Montgomery, they were met by an old black man from the Hill.
He had the late Miss Elizabeth’s carriage all shined up and ready for Jeff and his wife. His teenage son drove a wagon for the luggage. Emma and Luther rode in the luggage wagon after Luther helped load it.
The made a little convoy down to the ferry landing and crossed to the north. The ferry seemed unstable for the high carriage, but the crossing went smoothly and soon they party drew up to the manor house at Davis Hill. Luther helped unload the bags and went to find May.
After he told her of his journey, he told of the beautiful woman he had met and brought back with him.
“Mama, I want Emma to be my wife,” said Luther to his mother, sitting in the kitchen while she cleaned up.
“Well, now Luther, that is a fine thing to want, but this is a terrible time to be thinking of that,” replied May. “Your father just passed, your brother is gone and if they was to find him, they’d surely kill him. We don’t even know what is going to become of us.”
“I know Mama, but I love her,” said Luther.
“I’m sure you do son, she’s lovely and sweet and talented, too. From what you told she can play that violin. But that might be part of your problem. She ain’t no field hand, she’s near about the jewel in Mr. Jeff’s eye. She’s his daughter you know,” continued May. May had heard of Mr. Jeff’s offspring during some of the outbursts between Elizabeth and Ben about the time she was exiled to the fields.
“But Mama, I’m a real Davis too, you know,” said Luther.
“Lord don’t I know baby, I was there when you went in and when you came out. But that’s different, Mr. Jeff is still alive and he dotes on her like your daddy did Bo. You know what I mean, Mr. Ben was pretty protective of both of you, but Bo could do no wrong in his eyes. You gonna go ask a white man if you can marry his daughter?”
“Mama, I want to marry her, I don’t care whose daughter she is. I got to ask soon. they going back to Petite Marseilles on Sunday, then she’ll be gone forever,” insisted Luther.
“My only baby I got left and he wants to get mixed up in the white man’s world even more than he already is. You can sure tell you half white. Hard headed just like a white man,” lamented May.
“If that is what you have your heart set on, then I can’t turn you anyway. Love is funny thing, it gets you into more trouble than a body has a right to hope to get out of. But if you gonna do it, do it right. Go see Joe, you know that was my daddy’s name. I never saw him after I turned fourteen.
Next time I knew about him, he was dead, my Mama, too. And that was about love or something like it with me and Master Tommy. Anyway, I’m wandering. Go see Joe, tell you want to marry Emma, see what he says. It is his place, even if it is Mr. Jeff’s blood in her veins. Joe is a good man. He’s been Daddy to her all her life,” concluded May.
“Yes Mama, I’ll go now,” Luther gave her hug and went to find Joe Davis.
Joe was talking to the gardener when Luther interrupted, “Mr. Joe, may I speak with you a moment please?”
“Sure son, excuse us sir,” Joe said addressing both Luther and the gardener at once. The gardener nodded smiled and move away.
“What is it Luther? Is there a problem?” asked Joe.
“Well, sir, I don’t think it is exactly a problem, ‘cepting I’m not sure how to ask you,” Luther stumbled over his words.
“What are you trying to say son?” asked Joe.
“I want Emma to stay here, I want to marry your daughter,” blurted out Luther.
“Well now, son, you are a fine man, and I’d be proud for her to marry you, but she might have something to say in the matter. Have you asked her?” asked Joe, smiling a little.
“No sir, I thought I ought to ask you first,” answered a relieved Luther.
“Well go ask her, I know Mrs. Davis and Lilly will be sad to see her go, but Emma is a free woman, at least that’s what they tell the law says,” responded Joe.
“Do you know where Emma is?” asked Luther.
“I believe she is with her mother helping organize the packing in the guest rooms upstairs,” answered Joe, “why don’t we go together to find her?”
Emma was indeed helping pack Mr. Jeff and Mrs. Davis’s things. “Emma, Luther here would like a word with you. You two should go outside to talk. I need to talk to the ladies for a minute anyway,” said Joe as they entered the guest room.
Emma looked at her father, then smile at Luther, “Yes Father, come on Luther, What do you want to tell me?”
“It can wait until we are outside,” he said turning to lead her back down the stairs.
“Alright, now tell me,” said Emma as they went out the kitchen door.
“Well I don’t exactly have something to tell you. It is more that I want to ask you something. Will you marry me and stay here on Davis Hill?” replied Luther, noting it was easier asking the woman he loved than asking her father.
“Luther, I want to be with you, and this is a lovely place, but what about my family, all of my family?” asked Emma.
“I done talked to your father, he said it would be hard, but it would be up to you,” said Luther. Emma kissed him lightly on the cheek, took his hand and squeezed it.
“If it is up to me, I say yes,” she whispered.
When they went back inside and told her mother and Mrs. Davis. Mrs. Davis frowned and her mama just cried, “my baby, I won’t ever see my baby again.”
Sunday, the Jeff Davis’ entourage left by carriage to the ferry. Emma and Luther went with them to the river. There Mrs. Davis gave Emma her violin and made her promise to keep playing. Her mother instructed her to write often, while Joe told Luther to take good care of his daughter.
Mr. Jeff Davis took her aside and slipped five gold coins into her hand, “Don’t spend these. Don’t give them to Luther. If you ever need to come home to us, just take this money and get on the train. We will always take you back at the petite.”
“Thank you Mr. Jeff, but I believe I won’t need to take a train to run away from here,” answered Emma.
“Of course you don’t,” said Mr. Jeff, “you just never know.”
“Take the money, if you don’t need it you can always buy my grandchild a nice gift,” he smiled. She slipped the hundred dollars into her pocket.
On the way back to the Hill she told Luther about the money, but not about the grandchild remark. “He’s right. You keep that money, you never know. Something could happen to me. You might get tired of me. I don’t want to ever feel trapped here,” said Luther.
May is Landed 1880
The night after the funeral, Ben Junior called Luther into his father study and said “Luther, you and May got to go.”
“I ain’t surprised.”
“Well here’s what I’m thinking.” Ben Junior said, “You’re all the family I got. Bo is gone and no I’m not going’ looking’ for him, he probably did me a favor. If Dad had lived long enough he’d have give the whole plantation to Bo. You and May never did me any wrong, except May very nearly costing’ me my birthright.”
“Okay, what are you saying’, Mr. Ben?”
“It’s like this, I want you and May out of this house but I can’t turn family out in the cold. In the morning I’m deeding you the west section, 160 acres, free and clear. There’s a cottage on it already. You can have it and take the best team of horses and a plow. Just don’t come back over to this side of the hill, ever.”
“Mr. Ben, I’m most grateful. We’ll sure do that. I got couple of questions, though.”
“Yes and what would that be?”
“You aren’t a farmer. What are you going to do with the bottom land and what you gonna do with the floating plow?”
“You’re right. I’m going to lease out the cotton land and as to the plow, I want you to burn it in the morning. “
“Yes, Mr. Ben.”
May wasn’t surprised at Ben Jr., “Right down the middle.” She said,
“Could have done worse, could have done better. Luther, we’ll take that section. When do we move?”
“Soon as the deed is made, I reckon.” Benny replied.
On the first day of May, May loaded her belongings into a wagon, said good bye to the new Mr. Ben, his wife and little Betty.
“Well it’s better than leaving the Monroe plantation twenty years earlier.” She thought as she closed the little wooden box that had made her a pretty special person in 1880. A former slave woman land owner. She was more than free, she was independent.
The section of land that Ben deeded to May was mostly hillside. Forty acres of bottom land close to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains made for enough farm land to keep Luther busy with the team of horses. Without a mortgage and with the horses, he made enough for May, Emma and himself to live in relative comfort.
May and Emma tended to row crops on the flatter parts of the hill. In the spring they planted and hoed the little seedlings. They spent the long summer days harvesting the sweet fruit of corn, peas and okra and preserving it in countless jars sealed in wax and stored safely in the big pantry. In the fall they gather the meal corn and ground it in the hand press grinder. On the steeper slopes they grazed small herds of pigs, most of which were slaughtered after the chill of autumn made it safe The only stock spared the knife were the breeding sows and a couple of boars.
After the first year Emma gave May a granddaughter and they women took turns watching the girl while the other tended to the chores.
Years later when Lilly, her little grand daughter had a child of her own, May called Luther into her room to make a request.
“Luther, you remember this old quilt?” she asked, holding up the old slave quilt Shaker Brown had brought up to the Hill some thirty years earlier.
“Yes Mama, that’s the quilt with the blessing in it,” answered Luther.
“That’s right, son, now I won’t likely be here when your little new grand baby, Lucy, gets to be a woman. I want you to take this quilt, so you can give it to her when she is grown,” continued May.
“Yes, Mama,” said Luther, reaching out for the quilt.
“Now it ain’t just some old blanket, I want you to tell her about what I have told you about my mama, Annie, and Aggie and Tommy and Mr. Monroe and the hen house, and how that piece of leather was a message telling my poor daddy, Joe, was gone. I want you to tell about Shaker Brown and the blessing and about the Samson stories. Will you do that for me?” May asked.
“Mama, I will tell her every word, just the way you have told me so many times,” Luther answered.
“Mama, have you ever read the blessing?” asked Luther, carefully pulling out the old scripture.
“Well, son, I’ve looked at it and know its the Samson story, but I never could read all those old words,” replied May. So Luther, who had studied Latin and Greek and read Shakespeare for pleasure, read to May the whole blessing for the first time in her life. When he finished May had tears in her eyes.
“I guess I forgot some of the Bible story, I plumb forgot about the last part about the temple and poor old Samson dying when he was trying to kill the Philistines. What a sad story. I guess it’s kinda a mixed blessing after all these years,” she smiled weakly.
“Anyway, I’m glad to hear every word, even the sad ones. I guess we all have had our sad times. You know I still cry for your brother near about every day?” she added.
“Yes’m I miss Bo, too,” added Luther, tucking the old paper back into the quilt.
May and her little clan approached the new century in an isolation from Davis Hill and the rest of the world that made for a near perfect paradise.
Princess Betty 1882 – 1890
Shortly after Ben died, Ben, Jr. began going down to Montgomery and visiting with a professor at the new Huntingdon College. Edward Johnson was a native son, who like Ben, Jr. had been educated at Harvard. Johnson, nearly twenty years older than Ben, taught Greek and Latin in a small northeastern college and had jumped at the chance to come back south and start a classics program at the new school.
Ben went for the cultural stimulation he found so lacking at Davis Hill, but soon he fell in love with the professor’s young daughter. Anna Johnson was well spoken and often had an opinion when invited to share it, in regards to whatever point Ben and her father discussed. While it was not common for a woman to study classic languages at an advanced level, Anna had learned a great deal informally through conversations with her father and through her own reading. The combination of a beautiful woman and a brilliant mind attracted Ben. When he persuaded her to come and brighten his ordinary world at Davis Hill, he was thrilled.
When Lady Anna gave birth to a little girl, Ben gave her all the love in his heart. The perfect world he was trying so hard to construct now had a future.
The bitter memories of Bo getting all the attention and the rage of watching his father humiliate his mother with colored women inspired Ben to be the father he had wished for his own.
Named Elizabeth Anna Davis, the baby girl quickly became Princess Betty. From the time that she could walk, Ben would set her beside him in the carriage and drive her to the gardens. She would ride on his shoulders while he walked about the stonework.
She learned Italian almost as early as she learned English. The stone masons had been hired to come over from Italy and spoke little English. Ben’s knowledge of Latin made it easy enough for him to pick up the new language.
Lady Anna would join them in the afternoons or sometimes when the weather was nice she would bring a picnic.
Late in the evening after the Princess was sleeping and the servants had cleared and was the dishes, Ben and Lady Anna would study drawings in the history books. These had been Ben’s ‘dream books’ since he was a child. Ben would sit for hours in the family library and study the Greek and Roman civilizations. The stone ruins were his vision of paradise. The sweet sad proof of a perfect world that once existed. He would build gardens of marble and granite.
Lady Anna brought her educated tastes to these dreams. Each stone recreation should have a deeper meaning. Ben loved her for her brilliance.
They both knew most of the surrounding aristocracy would only see stones and flowers and reflecting pools.
That would be enough to make them the envy of all between Montgomery and Wetumpka. But to them the gardens held a deeper secret. They shared this secret with their little Princess in subtle ways everyday. As she grew it was a innate part of her understanding. Ben and Lady Anna sketched replicas of the scenes from the highest moments of western culture. Ben would transfer the sketches to scale and add detailed instructions in the stone masons tongue.
Every morning Ben would take his daughter and visit the stone cutters. With fresh plans and modifications in hand he would discuss the ideas with the head mason.
When Lady Anna arrived for her afternoon visit, Ben would bring her up to date on the mason’s sense of the possible. Sometimes to their delight the little Italian would get a gleam in his eye and exclaim, “e bello!” , because the changes or new plans would be totally comprehensible. Other times he would study the images carefully, shake his head sadly and mutter, “non pou essere fatto,” it is impossible. Most days he would take the papers and spread them out against a smooth slab of stone and ask a question every few moments for further clarification. Sometimes he would suggest minor changes that would be more practical from a construction point of view.
When there were to be changes, Ben would ask Lady Anna if she thought the modifications took away from their vision.
She would reply, “Is it too much to ask, for them to do it the way we have it drawn?”
Ben would interpret the head mason’s reasons with either, “Yes, as a practical matter, they cannot place the stones in that particular manner,” or “It is not impossible, but it would add to the time and expense, the mason’s suggestion is not an inability to achieve our design”.
It was rare that they could not arrive at a point of compromise, saving the spirit of their vision while accepting the limitations of the stone workers.
As Ben and Lady Anna filled most of their days and evenings with planning the gardens, they were months and even years ahead of the workers. The changes in design rarely effected the day’s work. When they were not carving their stone gardens out on broadsheets, they doted on the Princess.
Ben and Anna were both excellent at the art of drawing so when it came time to add the gods and angelic children to the facades, they modeled for each other.
“Anna, go undress and put the tunic on that you will find on the bed,” directed Ben one evening.
“My dear Ben, what exactly do you have in mind?” asked the Lady of the manor, half smiling.
“Just do as I ask, please,” requested Ben. In a few minutes, she returned.
She found Ben had removed his cloths as well. He wore a soft white cloth draped across one shoulder. Near the fireplace he had set out two drawing sets.
“You are a pleasure to know, my mysterious man,” said Anna settling down in front of the unoccupied table.
“No, not there yet,” said Ben, “Recline on the back of that chair.”
“That’s lovely, you are lovely, ahh, now loosen the tunic, and lower it so your shoulders show,” he added, “now let your breasts peak over the front.”
“My, Ben, I am not that kind of lady!” exclaimed Anna, pulling the tunic up a bit.
“Now Anna, my love, I am not asking you to pose as a loose woman, we are going to create high art in the Greek tradition. I will sketch you and if you like, you may draw me, too. This is for the sculpture,” explained Ben.
Anna relaxed a little and let her tunic fall. Ben began to sketch. In a few minutes he stood, looked at his wife, then at he paper in his hand, “Yes, I think so, let me show you.”
Anna took the drawing and studied it, “Ben you make me look beautiful, but now you plan to turn me to stone I suppose,” she added laughingly.
“Heaven forbid,” said Ben, “I want to keep you in your warm flesh and blood as long as possible. I only hope our stone cutters can preserve your likeness to be admired for the next thousand years.”
Anna laughed, “but what will the neighbors say?”
“Neighbors be dammed,” replied Ben.
“Ben, you shouldn’t swear,” interrupted Anna.
“Maybe not,” answered Ben, but I mean it. These folks around here have neither my vision nor my lovely wife. I will enjoy seeing you in the garden, whether in the flesh or in your stone replica, and I think you deserve the honor of being seen in your glory.”
Anna smiled, “You are too kind, but now it is my turn.” With that she began to draw Ben. Early into the morning they extinguished the lights and went to bed, but not before enjoying the tastes of the fruits they had spent an evening drawing. Ben was a gentle lover, but a man who knew when to be forceful and for all of Anna’s fine upbringing, she could not help but burn with passion when they were close.
In the following weeks they drew each other often, frequently with the same erotic side effects of the first evening. They even eventually came to pose completely nude.
On one thing Anna was insistent, ” You can draw my face or my uncovered body, but you cannot put into stone in front of the whole world the two of them together. I don’t want the servants, the stone cutters or the men of this county strolling the garden and seeing me.”
“Then who’s face shall we use with your body?” asked Ben.
“We have volumes filled with pictures of classic sculptures in the library, we will simply add their faces to the pictures,” she replied. So that is what they did. Sometimes when the little princess was getting drowsy after dinner but before she got too cranky to sit, they would draw her for the little angelic figures to be cut into the walls of the garden.
The paradise of post war Alabama seemed to be truly their destiny. Ben knew happiness, true happiness for the first time in his life, without the bittersweet edges, his father’s evilness cast over the family nor the sadness of having to grow up without a real mother. Ben believed the Davis Empire would rise to the sky and live forever.
Of Weddings and Funerals 1900
Betty was courting a Robert Jones. Grandson of the Robert Jones, Rear Admiral of the Confederate Navy. The Admiral had many fine characteristics but for the most part all the grandson had inherited was a strong chin and a taste for the good life. The Jones family had lost their land in reconstruction and in thirty years had failed to make a mark in the New South. But Robert was a dandy and he read. He would sit for hours in the library, across from Ben, reading classics or discussing expansion plans with his future father in law.
The wedding was a grand affair, costing nearly $5,000 in 1899. Twenty attendants and half the mountain turned out to see the Davis-Jones union. Hardly able to keep their secret dreams of the next Confederacy hidden. Of course, there would be no next Confederacy but in Alabama 1899 they still dreamed.
The wedding was held in the gardens that Ben and Anna had spent their adult lives building. The reception moved indoors to the Davis Mansion with guests wandering back out into the shadows of the surrounding gardens, for romantic interludes and private conversation. Eventually the biting insects drove everyone inside. The lesser dignitaries partied in the main ballroom and the grand hall.
Close relatives and business associates retired to the library and the women to a private parlor. Both rooms were built deep into the center of the great house. There were no windows or even passages to the main rooms.
They were elegant and quiet as they had only one entrance each, a thick sliding door opening to a private hallway that led back to the main hall. hey were surrounded by a layer of guest rooms that opened away from these retreats. Ben, Jr. had seen a similar layout in some of the royal residences when he traveled to Europe.
He and Emma had gone to the old world to buy art and furniture, as well as to find the best craftsmen available for construction.
There was one small adjoining passage between the two private rooms, but the general party noise from the great rooms could not be heard. Ben and the new groom sat among some of Alabama’s most prominent people smoking fine cigars from Cuba and drinking the best bourbon available.
“Ben, has the boy considered politics?” said Senator Tatum. He addressed the question to Ben out of deference, but meant it both for Ben and Robert.
“I don’t know Senator, we have talked of many things in the past year while he has been trying, and succeeding, to charm my only daughter away from her poor father,” answered Ben.
“Robert seems more inclined towards academia. He is fond of numbers and the pursuit of knowledge, isn’t that right , son?” Ben concluded, signaling that Robert could speak for himself.
“With firm good looks, a strong voice and a stronger handshake, I believe a young man who represented both the Davis and the Jones family could do well,” interjected Tatum.
“In fact, there is a new congressional seat being created in this part of the state as part of Reapportionment. Seems like a good thing to have a smart young man like yourself looking after the good people of Alabama and their interests in Washington.
You would certainly have my guidance at your disposal, as well as these other honorable men in this room,” said Tatum looking around the room and noting the heads nodding in ascent.
Robert finally spoke to the question for himself, “I am not opposed to serving the people of my home state. Of course my father would want me to be a naval officer but I fear I don’t fancy a life on water as much as he did. Also it still seems like there might come a day when Washington might again order troops to march and ships to sail against our beloved state. I find the idea of being one of those who help control Washington intriguing.”
The old senator was among the first white senators after the end of reconstruction. He had been in office for longer than Robert had been alive.
Tatum was getting concerned about the future of Alabama as well as other southern states. There was a mood among large numbers of the citizenry that freed black folks weren’t as much of the problem as a hand full of aristocrats.
The aristocracy had managed to hold on to the power and most of the money as the South heaved and struggled to recover the from the devastating war and the reconstruction period when black and white alike were exploited for northern gain.
In the thirty- five years following surrender at Appomattox Court House, everything had changed, everything except who pulled the purse strings and the levers of power. The future looked troubled to men like Tatum. In many southern counties the black population still out numbered the whites and in other counties the edge was held by whites only by way of northern immigration. Blacks were building their own communities and in some areas the new south found blacks and whites working together as equals, from farming to commerce to industrial production.
If this was not reversed, if the black man was not controlled, the concentration of power would forever slip from the hands who had guided the south since the removal of the Indians.
Tatum would not let this happen on his watch, but what would come after? If the northern educated whites and the self educated blacks continued, the south would become just like the north.
The south would no longer be a place of genteel rule of the well born, but a common democracy where every man had something but no man controlled grand estates and great cotton mills and iron and steel plants, producing every thing from buggy axles to ships. The south would be a poor colony for the northern industrial giants. There would be no second coming of the royalty that existed in the prewar years.
“We need new leaders who see the future, but remember the past, the great costs of the war and the great glory of what once was,” explained Tatum.
“Here, here,” murmured the other silver heads over their drinks. Robert looked at Ben, who simply nodded and gave Robert a look that said, “If this is what you want I will stand with you.”
“Gentlemen, I am young. I have a lot to learn, but I will serve as you see fit. Senator, I will call in your offer of guidance. My heart is true to the cause, and the good Lord has given me a quick mind, if you will teach me, I will be the next congressman from Elmore and Autauga counties,” answered Robert.
Tatum rose, shook Robert and Ben’s hands, then he led the young man around the room to greet the others and hear their endorsement as well as listen for a moment to their concerns.
After everyone had settled back down to a fresh drink and most had trimmed a new cigar, there was the faintest sound of disturbance.
“Let me go see if the guests are getting anxious to see the newlyweds again,” said Robert with a smile. He slipped out and slid the heavy door quietly back closed behind him. The commotion was louder now as he walked down the hall towards the ballroom. On the way he ran into Elizabeth with one of her attendants. They were on a similar mission on behalf of the ladies in the parlor.
“What is the matter?” asked Betty of her new husband.
“I’m not at all certain,” he replied, “but I have some very interesting news about our future. Let’s find out what’s going on, then I’ll tell you out in garden.” They quickened their pace and entered the crowded ballroom. People were leaving the great hall and pouring into the ballroom.
Those in the ballroom, at first, were disturbed by the unruly action of the newcomers. The ballroom was filled with couples dancing as a band played. the great hall served more as a buffet and bar, so the people crowding into the ballroom were both drunk and panicked. They trampled on the feet of the dancers and shoved them against on another.
“People! People!” Robert called in his loudest, firm voice without actually reaching a yell pitch, “let’s have a little calm and decorum. What is going on in the hall?”
Someone yelled, “Fire!” The band had stopped playing at Robert’s command and for the first time the guests understood the gravity of their predicament. The fire was in the room that led out of the house. The other exits included a small door used to bring firewood into the ballroom to fire the grand fireplace and the regular kitchen door that opened to the back of the house. The firewood door was very small. A man or a woman in formal dress would have difficulty using it. Beyond the door was a small porch. The porch was stocked at all times with a cord of split wood. In work clothes it would be dangerous to try to climb over the pile of wood. in the dark. in fancy clothes and in a panic, it was impossible.
A few folks slipped out the door and the first two broke their legs as they fell among sticks of wood. Their screaming scared those lined at the little door into a panic back into the room, as they feared fire had already reached the porch.
The guests numbered well over a hundred as they pushed into the kitchen. The servants were startled and quickly fled into the yard ahead of the mass of people. In the confusion, no one remembered to rescue the ladies and gentlemen in the private quarters deep in the house. Robert and Betty finally reached the safety of the gardens. “Where is my Father?” asked Betty, looking around the faces and failing to see her parents.
“He may still be in the Library, surely they got out, though,” answered Robert, doubtfully.
“How?” cried Betty
“There is no way out except the way we came, those rooms are secure from the other side of the house,” she continued.
“Robert, do something, can’t you save the house? Can’t you save my parents?” Betty wailed. The flames lit the serene statues, the immortal recreations of Betty’s world. It was a world the same flames were destroying as she watched. The neatly trimmed hedges and the perfectly balanced ferns and flowering trees seemed completely unaware of the destruction a hundred feet down the stone paths towards the house. Robert left Betty and ran back towards the burning mansion.
He could not get closer than the courtyard off the kitchen. The heat was unbearable as several thousand board feet of dried Oak and oil rich Heart Pine fueled the pyre. Robert looked for the men who moments before had offered him fame and glory on a platter.
None of the men were among those fleeing the fire. Robert saw no sign of Lady Anna. He returned to Betty. She stared in disbelief as he reported his lack of success.
“This can’t be happening, you have to be mistaken. They must have gotten out,” she hoped aloud.
“You said there was no other way out, the house is a total loss, if they aren’t out by now they are lost, too,” replied Robert, not knowing how to handle Betty or the entire situation.
By morning the story was sorted out. Around midnight an intoxicated guest tripped, knocking a servant down. This would not have been a concern except the servant was carrying a tray of lamps. The impact broke the lamps.
Oil and fire went on heavy drapes and tablecloths and petticoats. They said you could see it from the steps of the capital in Montgomery. Fourteen people died, including Ben and Lady Anna Davis, as well as Senator Tatum and his cronies. The mansion burned to the ground and with it the possibility of restoring the old ways to this part of Alabama.
Six chimneys and a grand set of marble front steps were all that remained looking out over the beautiful classical gardens. The mansion was insured, of course. But Ben had spent the last nineteen years living off every cent the cotton lease brought in for the grand improvements, the art work, the rare European books were all bought with heavy mortgages on the place. With his death, every note came due.
The Bungalow 1900
Robert Jones had married into money for exactly one evening. By daylight he and Betty were paupers.
May awoke from a light sleep. She noticed a faint smell of smoke. As she peered out the window, she could see a bright unnatural glow to the east. At first, she thought maybe it was already morning and the sun was coming up. Then she heard the noise of the fire. Nearly a mile of forests, meadows, shanties and small garden plots stood between May’s new home and the old Davis Mansion. The sound of the fire was muted by the distance, but it was unmistakable.
“Luther, Luther, The mansion!” she cried.
Luther stirred and stumbled into May’s room, “Mama, you alright?”
“Yes, nothing’s the matter with me. It’s your Daddy’s house! The mansion is on fire!” She almost screamed.
“What?” asked Luther, still too asleep to comprehend what May was saying. Then he looked out the window where she pointed.
“Oh,” he said, then, “oh my God!”
“Luther, take the good horse and ride over, see what you can do,” she instructed.
“Yes, Mama,” replied Luther as he went to the room he shared with Emma.
“Luther, what’s the matter?” Emma asked, awaking at his return.
“Something’s the matter over at the wedding, a fire, I got to go ride over. I’ll be back in a while. Luther left the house, saddled the horse and rode East.
The trail would have been too dark to see, but the sky was aglow. He rode at a fast gait, just under a gallop.
When he rode up near enough the house, he saw nearly a hundred people huddled between the flames and the darkness where the great lawn and the gardens ran into the woods.
“Mister Ben!” he called, scanning the crowd, looking for his brother before he even dismounted, “Mister Ben!”
Robert and Betty stood together, dazed, near the rest of the guests.
Robert looked up and said to the strange black who rode in out of the night, “Mr. Davis is dead. So is Lady Anna and several others. Who are you? What do you want?”
“I’m Luther,” he said dismounting.
Luther turned to the young bride, ” Miss Betty, I’m so sorry. Are you sure Mister Ben is dead?”
“He’s dead. They’re all dead,” said Robert, trying to place this Luther in all the confusion.
“Who is this negro?” he turned to Betty.
“Luther,” she said, “he was born on the place, during the war.”
“Oh,” said Robert, he looked at Luther and saw the resemblance to his late father-in-law.
“Oh,” he repeated.
“Miss Betty, can I help?” Luther asked.
“Luther, it’s too late, everything is gone. Go home,” she said, dully.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied, adding, “if you need anything, we will be glad to help.” Then he rode off back down the dark trail. Going back the woods seemed darker, with the light behind him. Luther let the horse pick his way slowly back towards May’s place.
“Little Ben is dead, and Lady Anna, too. The mansion is gone. Little Miss Betty and her new husband made it out. Looks like lots of folks didn’t,” he told May and Emma.
“Oh my little Ben,” sighed May.
“All he has done ever since your Daddy died, now he’s gone and his mansion, too,” May sat down on the steps of her new home.
“Luther, you know what your poor little brother did, when your Daddy died. We got to take care of little Miss Betty,” she continued.
“Yes’m,” said Luther, “how you planning on doing that?”
“She don’t hardly know us, we been gone her whole life. What if she don’t want no help from us?” he added.
“I can’t help us being gone, that was Little Ben’s wishes. I don’t know if she will let us help, but I want to do what I can. That little white girl is your family,” said May.
“Yes’m what you planning on doing then?” asked Luther.
“Well, first thing me and Emma will cook up a big breakfast for Betty and all her guests,” said May turning with Emma to start the cooking.
“After breakfast, maybe she will listen to me, poor child,” added May.
Betty let May serve her and her guests breakfast but refused offers of blankets, furniture and clothes. She felt it was “altogether unsuitable,” as she told Robert later, “I can’t be sitting in some old negro’s chair, or sleeping under their blanket. And Lord knows why she even offered me their clothes. Really!”
May had moved in to a small bungalow in 1880 when Ben, Jr. deeded her the west section. As the years passed and her land had prospered, she had Luther build a nice large house.
It was nothing like the expansions of the Davis Mansion during the same period, but it was a comfortably large country house with four bedrooms, a drawing room, a library, as well as a large kitchen and a full formal dining room. Some thought it was a bit much for a former slave, but May could afford it and so she built it.
When Lilly had married Josh and Lucy was born, they moved into the old little house. Josh was gone but Lilly and Lucy stayed in the little house. It took a week or so back and forth with the Banks and attorneys to figure out how bad the tragedy was.
After the farm was sold by the bank and all the debts were paid, Betty received one thousand dollars. The new farmer offered to hire Robert as a bookkeeper.
May called on Betty, who had been living in the little cottage behind the smoke house where May had been exiled to some forty years before to nurse Ben and Luther. It had survived the fire but not the auction. Betty was packing.
“Your Daddy gave me a section when you were still a baby,” May said.
“I know,” replied Betty, knowing where this was going, but not at all interested in what was coming.
“He didn’t have to but he did it because we are all family,” continued May.
“Family? I’m not family to coloreds.” Betty replied.
“No matter. You want it, I’ll deed you back forty acres. Now Mrs. Jones, you and I don’t share one drop of blood, that’s true, but my boy Luther is your closest living relative and you know it,” said May, in a firm but respectful voice.
“I’ll be damned if I’ll take charity from the same bunch of coloreds that killed my Grandpa,” said the ungrateful Betty.
“It’s yours if you want it. I’m going to tell Mr. Jones of my offer. You two can work it out as to what you want to do,” replied May.
May walked out of her former slave quarters and mused how life on Davis Hill seemed to keep turning round from slave to landed to benefactor. She may have been born May Monroe but she was as married to Davis Hill as much as any soul, colored or white.
Robert Jones took the land and built a bungalow on the overlook. It was comfortable. The thousand dollars went a long way. The farmer who bought Davis Hill let them cut timber from his side of the mountain. It was a cozy home, not too small except compared to Betty’s ghost mansion.
No one rebuilt the mansion. The new owner really wanted the rich bottom land and some timber off the hillside. The gardens looked nice, but he knew they would terribly hard to remove and almost worthless when removed. It would make a nice home site, but he already had a grand city house south of Dexter Avenue in Montgomery. When a tearful Betty came to him and plead to be allowed to keep control of the gardens as a shrine to her dead parents, he agreed. The land under the gardens would remain his in deed but they made a codicil stating that Elizabeth Davis Jones and her heirs would be allowed to maintain the gardens as they saw fit for as long as they cared to do so.
Betty kept up the gardens as best she could. She only had a pair of youngsters she paid fifty cents a week to help her prune and weed.
Robert knew it was odd to be taking help from coloreds, especially considering who his grandfather was, but he had married into a plantation that burned. He was grateful for forty acres. He couldn’t help it that Ben Junior had squandered it all.
Betty hated. She hated May. She hated Bo and Luther but most of all she hated her new husband for humiliating her.
Squatters on a nigger farm that was hers by rights in the first place. Every white man she’d ever known let her down. Every black seemed to take something away from her. Her grandfather and now her pride. When Betty’s belly began to swell in early March 1900 she moved into her own bedroom and never let Robert touch her again.
From Bo to Samson 1881 – 1958
With James’ help, Bo not only ‘passed,’ he landed a job in a bank in Cincinnati, eventually married the banker’s daughter and gained his father-in-law’s confidence. Eventually Bo took a substantial portion of the old man’s money and opened a bank in the booming Texas city of Austin.
As Bo grew to be an old man, he took great joy in hunting and fishing with his young grandson. The boy had been named Samson at Bo’s near insistence. When Samson was twelve years old, the old man gave him a Buck brand hunting knife and a Remington twenty gauge for Christmas.
As school did not start back until the 5th of January, and deer season started on the first, Bo invited Samson to try out his new gear on a wild tract of land Bo had bought for real estate development.
Today the meadow is a high priced over built suburb of Austin, but that morning Bo and Samson were the only humans on over two square miles of woodland and meadows.
An hour before dawn, Bo shook his sleeping grandson gently, “Get up Samson, let’s go get us a deer.”
Samson woke and quickly dressed. By the time he put his knife sheath through his belt loop and got his Remington from the cabinet, Bo had the truck ready, a breakfast of warm biscuits and a thermos of coffee packed. Samson loved to sip the scolding coffee, in the cold dark morning. The smell of coffee and warm biscuits eaten on a bumpy dark road is a sense that will stay with a man the rest of his life.
By soft daylight they had unloaded the gear and loaded their shotguns. For what seemed like the hundredth time in his life, Samson held a short gun safety lecture:
Never consider a gun unloaded, always check the chamber. Never point a gun, loaded or unloaded in the general direction of yourself or someone else.
Always use the safety, but never trust the safety. Lay the gun down when crossing a fence. Hold the butt tight against your shoulder. Squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it. Never rush a shot. If you don’t have time for a good shot, you’ll miss anyway, or worse you’ll injure the deer but not kill him.
“Yes sir, Grandpa,” Samson replied respectfully, after the lecture.
They eased out into the edge of a large meadow and scanned the horizon. In a moment a couple of grazing deer raised their heads.
“Look Samson,” whispered the old man, “there’s your deer.”
Samson knew better, but in the excitement, he raised his gun.
“No boy, you are at least a half a mile away. We need to get within a hundred yards for that buckshot to have a chance,” instructed Bo.
“Yes sir, I guess I just got excited,” said the boy, lowering his shotgun.
“I know, but you can’t let your blood get to pumping so loud that your brain can’t hear itself think,” replied the old man.
“We are down wind, as long as we move slowly and keep quiet, the deer aren’t going to spook. Let’s see if we can get close enough for you to get off a shot. Be very quiet and move slowly, but keep watching the deer. If you get a good shot take it. If you don’t, there will always be a next time,” with that Bo lead the way. staying close to the woods as they edged closer.
Samson followed carefully for a few minutes, then he wished he had brought some coffee and biscuits, both now waiting in the cab of Bo’s pickup. All the sudden he noticed the deer raise their heads. Then they settled back to a nervously moving graze. Eating a little and then looking back over their shoulders.
Bo stopped when the deer looked up, then resumed his slow approach, closing distance between him and the deer. Samson tried to figure how close the deer were. He raised the shotgun and sighted at the lead buck.
“Slowly, slowly,” he heard Bo whisper, as he felt his finger tighten on the trigger. The deer stepped forward, the sight was right on the big chest of the buck. Samson pressed the stock into his shoulder as hard as he could and squeezed. The buck leapt and fell, the other deer turned and cut away to the woods.
“You got’em boy!” shouted Bo.
“Don’t run, walk on over here and help me carry him to a tree,” added Bo.
Samson tried not to run, he tried to remember all the safety rules, but his blood was roaring. He looked at the deer, it was so big. He had shot squirrels and rabbits and even once got a quail, but this deer, his first deer, looked bigger than Samson.
“I really got one!” he said to Bo, in an almost whisper of awe.
“Yes you did, son, now let’s get him gutted and strung up and I’ll show you how to use that Buck knife,” Answered Bo.
“Okay, boy, careful like now, open you knife, make sure it locks,” Bo said.
“ Now, with the tip, cut a shallow straight line from the bottom of his ribcage to his butt, not too deep, you don’t want to be poking holes in his guts. You’ll ruin the deer that way,” explained Bo. Samson did as he was told. Bo had Samson reach in and pull the still warm organs on the ground.
Together they carried him to a nearby sapling. Bo would have carried him over his shoulder as he had done most of his hunting life, but the years were catching up, so the old man and the boy did their best to keep the deer out of the dirt. Bo was glad they didn’t have an audience.
Bo showed Samson how to cut the skin away from the meat and cut him into sections. Bo had Samson stay with the meat while he went after the truck.
Now the deer was a lighter in parts and Bo and Samson managed to load it into large metal coolers in the truck bed. That afternoon, they cut it up into steaks and roast, running the scraps through the grinder Bo had in the shed with the large freezer.
Bo ‘stayed white’ until near his death when his grandson got into a hazing incident that led to the accidental death of a young black girl.
Young Samson came home after his father, now the banker at the prestigious Cattle & Oil Bank, known as the COB, received a call from the president of South West College, an elite school for Texas’ most influential families, known locally as “SW.” The president said that rumors were circulating about a hazing incident at the fraternity where Samson was pledged. The school was encouraging all the students possibly involved to take a week off. Samson would be home that same day.
Further, he said, this would not show as a blemish on young Mr. Davis’ records and a tutor would be offered to each of the students involved to make sure their school work did not suffer.
The president didn’t elaborate. Samson’s father knew it was serious and decided that it might be better not to know all the details.
The truth is that the college only knew part of the story. The true story was that Samson was very much involved. As part of the pledge process, Samson and two other freshmen were sent out to find a young black girl to bring back to the Frat house. They had snatched a fifteen year old girl off a street corner about dark. The girl had been sent up to the store to get some sugar and eggs for her sister’s birthday cake.
She started telling the clerk about the birthday party she was helping her mother with and got distracted. When she noticed the sky outside going to dusk, she started home in a hurry.
The boys grabbed her pushed her down on the back floorboard and threw a blanket over her. The ingredients for her sisters cake lay smashed on the darkened sidewalk.
After they smuggled her into the Frat house, the older fraternity brothers decided the pledges should all have sex with the frightened young girl.
“We can’t have any virgins in this house,” intoned the drunk sophomore, in charge of pledge initiation for Samson’s group of freshmen.
Samson thought it was all pretty sick, but he was already in deep, and he thought, “she’s just a nigger girl, who cares?” On the edge of Austin a worried mother had found the broken bag of groceries and was in a near state of panic. She, for one, cared. When one of the other boys accidentally smothered the girl, trying to keep her quiet, Samson, like the other boys were more worried with getting rid of the body, than feeling guilty for their horrible acts.
It is nearly impossible to keep a half dozen eighteen and nineteen year old boys from leaking this kind of tragic story, even if their life might actually depend on it. Fortunately for the boys, and equally unfortunately for the cause of justice, nobody in authority wanted to find out too much about a nasty rumor concerning one of the most well connected fraternities on campus. The black family whose nightmare never ended, was not in a position to even hear the rumors and make the connection between it and the disappearance of their daughter. If they had, who knows if in Texas in 1948, if anyone would have done anything about it.
When Samson came home for a few days to let things cool off over at the college, the old man called him into his room.
“Samson, I am very troubled about what happened at SW,” Bo said, leaning up on his elbow on the side of his bed.
“But Grandpa, it was an accident, and she was just a nigger girl,” replied Samson.
“Well, accidents happen, but you boys were not doing right to start with, you know that. And what really bothers me is the ‘just a nigger girl’ part,” continued Bo.
“But she was,” insisted Samson.
“Now listen Samson, what do you think of your old Grandpa?” asked Bo.
“You are my hero, you know that! You can fish and hunt and you still know how to make money like nobody’s business, I want to be just like you. I love you Grandpa,”
answered Samson, confused at the turn in the conversation.
“What if I told you I was a black man, then what would you say?” asked Bo.
“But you’re not!” countered his grandson.
“Oh but I am, that is my point. I may not be able to fish or hunt anymore, and I may even be getting too old to make money, but I will be the son of a slave woman ’til the day I die. There are things you don’t know. There are things I have told no one in sixty years, not even your Grandma knows what I’m telling you.
“I never thought I would tell anybody. I won’t go to my grave with this secret,” said Bo.
“I can’t let you go on thinking you are better than a black man. You are a black man. Not much black, but black enough,” explained Bo.
Samson could not believe what he just heard. There was no way he was part nigger. He was shaken to his bones.
“Grandpa I don’t understand, you are a little dark but so are a lot of people in Texas.”
So old Bo told the story of Davis Hill, about how good and evil Mr. Ben Davis had been at the same time. The great tragedy of losing his father, his entire family, the land he loved, and how he ‘passed’ with the help of a James, from the train going north.
The next week Samson return to SW, he kept his head down and told no one of the little girl or of his conversation with Bo. His anger at himself grew more intense everyday. Samson had felt bad about the kidnaping and rape. It wasn’t something he would ever done on his own. The murder horrified him. The only way he had been able to deal with the whole mess was to think of the dead girl as being of no value. He had based this on her skin color. Now he had to admit, she was no more or less a human than Samson. He felt he should avenge her murder somehow. As a privileged son, the thought of turning himself in was one that crossed his mind, but he never seriously considered it.
When word came that Bo had died suddenly of a massive heart attack, Samson was distraught. The Sunday after the funeral Samson got up before daylight and took a drive out to the woodland where he and Bo had spent many crisp mornings sipping thermos coffee and hunting deer.
Samson wandered down to the meadow where nearly ten years before he had killed his first deer. Sitting on a fallen tree, he tried to clear his head.
As the daylight turned to morning all he could think of was that the man he admired most was gone. And he, Samson, had let him down. Samson had to admit that if Bo had been black in society like he was in reality, Texas and Ohio, for that matter, would not have given him the same chance.
Because if the screwed up world, Bo had been force to live a lie his whole adult life or give up everything. It wasn’t fair, but then he also realized what had happened at SW wasn’t fair either. That girl had every right to be left alone. She had every right to be alive right now, but because she was black, she was expendable. If she was expendable, then he, Samson, was, too.
He owed Bo something, but he couldn’t change the world, he couldn’t destroy every bigot. He would of course, quit being one himself, but that wasn’t enough. Then it dawned on him, he could change the world. Not the whole world, but the part of it that was around him. Kind of like Bo had done, by helping blacks with the bank.
Bo had told him about the bargain he made with James, they got him into banking and he always made sure that negroes were given a fair chance at getting a loan if they needed it.
His German father-in-law wasn’t too happy at first, but Bo always made sure he never loaned more than the borrower could pay. He never gave blacks a discount,so the bank always made a good return. If a black person needed to borrow money, but was a little shaky on the financials, Bo would pick up the phone and get someone in the network that had helped him to vouch for the loan. He knew that they understood, that if the borrower defaulted, the network would have to cover, if they didn’t, Bo would not have the leeway to make any of them loans. Bo helped them, they helped the bank, and small businesses and hardworking families got a leg up.
Well, Samson wasn’t going to be a banker, he was going to take direct action, he would use his position as an educated white man to work in close to bigots and destroy them. If he had to kill them, then he would plot a way to do it that wouldn’t be traced, if he could ruin them so they could not hurt people with their hatred, he would do that. From being around banking his entire life, he already knew that almost everybody, especially people who devoted their time to something as stupid as bigotry, usually were skating on ice somewhere in their lives. He could befriend them, then take the inside knowledge that he gained and crush them.
Samson stood up and stretched, he was starved, it was nearly noon and he had hardly eaten since he came home. He had felt so sick about losing Bo, about not getting to say goodbye, to never have the chance to redeem himself to the old man he loved so much, he could not until that moment, think about something so dreary as eating. Now he wished he didn’t have most of an hour to go to get back home to eat. There was tons of food at the house. He would have stopped at a roadside diner, but it was Sunday. They were all closed. His mother noticed the change in his appearance as he sat in the kitchen eating a huge plate full of cold chicken and cornbread, “Samson, it’s good to see you eat something. Are you feeling better?”
“Yes, Mother, I went out to Grandpa’s woods, I guess I kinda said my goodbyes,” he answered.
Back at SW he went to work on his plan. His first victim would be the guy who had caused all the mess at SW, the pledge leader.To his face he was nice enough, but he spent hours plotting a revenge. When the next Fall rolled around and he was selected to lead a group of pledges into their initiation, he came up with a plan.
It would cost Samson his bright future, not unlike Bo, some seventy years earlier fleeing his birthright to save his neck. Only this time it would be no accident. Samson explained to the boys that their job was to fake a lynching at the Frat house.
When the junior who had led Samson’s group the year before was passed out from too much good whiskey, stolen from Samson’s parent’s basement liquor store, Samson led the new boys into action. They carefully eased the passed out brother onto the front porch.
There they tied a noose around his neck and lifted the chair he was sleeping in up on a platform made of two chairs staked inverted on top of each other.
Samson had a boy fasten a second rope around one of the legs of the bottom chair. This rope they carefully strung out to the hedges beside the Frat house.
“When I say, you pull the rope and run like hell!” whispered Samson to the nervous boys, “he’s gonna fall and it will frighten him good. It won’t hurt him, I’ve got slack in the noose, but for a second he’s gonna crap his pants and then he’s gonna want to kill somebody. Don’t come back until in the morning when he’s calmed down.”
The boys nodded.
“Pull,” yelled Samson. He didn’t have to add “run,” they were gone into the night instantly. The stack of chairs fell and the rope tightened. Samson heard a gurgled sound, then he, too, left. Samson got into his 1948 Ford and never looked back. He was out of Texas by night fall, headed west. He didn’t sleep until he made California. The state of Texas never saw him again.
His years in California, nearly a decade, reinforced his secret anger at his fellow white man. He was white enough that he was treated as a white, but all around him, people of color were abused. He was overwhelmed by the sense that he could never turn things around, he could never make the whites see blacks as equals.
Finally, he decided all he could do was avenge the loss of Bo’s birthright. He would go to Davis Hill. He would either make peace or destroy the place. He was mentally prepared for either, but his heart was turned to violence.
Samson Comes East 1958
After ten years of sales work, kitchen help and restaurant management, Samson took Route 66 and drove east to St Louis. He left a rich married woman dead in a roadside park outside of Winslow. When he reached Oklahoma he had a couple of thousand dollars and the dead woman’s 1958 sky blue Cadillac. He also had the .38 Special he had taken from the restaurant safe the night he left town. He was now party to three murders and no one was really even looking for him.
Samson drove the Caddy south, to New Orleans.
Samson found a cheap room just outside the French Quarter. The first night he made his way down a side street and stopped at a dingy store front. The sign over the day showed an open hand with the moon and stars on the palm. It read: Josephine St. Marie, Fortunes, Spells Cast and Removed.
Samson went in. The inside was dark and smelled of candles and potions. As he entered a little bell tinkled on the door. He stood for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. The Virgin Mother, Jesus, dripping of blood, black Jesus, cats, a one-eyed black man with a scarred face and raised hands were all both painted on huge wall carpets as well as repeated on shelves and standing from the floor as statues. Dim, smoky candles burned in niches and on tabletops that he would later find out were alters. In a moment, he heard a rustle and a gentle thumping. An old woman, dressed in a heavy shiny purple robe, pushed back one of the curtains and stepped through into the anteroom with him. Josephine St. Marie smiled a nearly toothless smile and held onto her hand-carved walking stick with gnarled fingers studded with gold and sparkling diamonds and rubies. A deep black stone hung around her neck on a thick silver chain.
“Welcome,” she said.
She reached out and took his hand. He started to draw back, then, before he could move, he felt strange warmth. The warmth started in his hand and moved up his arm, from there it flowed up his neck and into his eyes, and it flowed down, too. He realized he was looking at a woman so old and ugly as to hardly be considered to have any gender at all, but he felt himself becoming aroused. He looked into her eyes and saw the beautiful girl she had been long before he was born.
The young gypsy girl stood before him, brilliant black eyes and rich, thick hair, the wrinkles unfolded into smooth skin. Her sagging breasts and shrunken shoulders pulled firm. He wanted her. She let go of his hand and he felt foolish looking at this old hag with the biggest erection he had ever known.
She smiled again, “I know who you are. I know why you came. And yes, I was the girl you just saw. I can be her again for you, but you must know, when you see me like that, I am looking inside you, too.”
“You have some serious problems. I can help you with some, but you have a darkness that there is no hope for. For that, you must learn to use it. I will help you, but first I want something from you,” she continued.
Samson started to reach into his pocket for his wallet.
“No,” she said, as she walked to the door, turned the little “open” sign to “closed”, locked the door, and took his hand again, “I want you.”
He followed the beautiful young girl up stairs to her bedroom, more candles with strange erotic odors burned in the dark air. There was an underlayment of mustiness, but Samson did not care. It had been several weeks since he had been with a woman. The heavy knobby knuckled hands were slender, but still sparkled with the gold and stones. She let the robe slip off her shoulders and he saw the black stone, gleaming between her taut breasts.
In bed she moved her lithe, firm body with the agility of an athelete, no hint of her hobbling remained. She raised herself above, legs straddling him and ran her hands lightly over his chest. Then she pulled him towards her, pressing his face into her breasts. She leaned back and pinched his nipples between her long nails. He started to cry out but his cry turned into a moan as she forced herself down on him.
After his first explosive orgasm, and as she began to coax a fresh arousal, he realized that she was doing him. She was doing him anyway she wanted to do. It bothered him a little to not be charge. He felt like his was spinning, out of control. But he realized being the marionette with a puppet master like this woman was too satisfying to worry about control.
She made love to him for what seemed like the rest of the night. Samson fell asleep between scented pillows. He awoke alone. The gray misty New Orleans sky was trying to peak into the room through a crack between the solid curtains.
Samson dressed and went out of the bedroom. He was completely lost. The night before, he was enthralled by the girl. He had noticed nothing about the house as they made their way up to bed.
He stood in the hall and listened. He heard the sound of cooking and smelled coffee and bacon. The hall was short, with just two rooms coming off of a small landing. He went down the stairs, seeing well enough in the near darkness. The stairs opened into large, dark living room, with a small consultation area under the stairs.
The kitchen was at the back of the building, with a small bathroom notched in behind the sink. The kitchen was light with windows. The old woman leaned on her stick and turned bacon with a butcher knife. She turned and smiled a wrinkled two-toothed smile at him.
“Sleep well? Hungry?” she asked.
“How….? He started.
“How what?” she asked.
“How can you change so much, or was I dreaming? I mean not just the way you look, but the way you move, everything?” he asked.
“Magic is better left alone,” she said.
“But I will tell you this, it wasn’t just me, part of it was you. We all are always everything we ever were, and we see what we want to see,” she added.
“Me? What did I have to do with it? Was I really just dreaming, or were you a young vixen last night?” he asked.
“Better left alone,” she said, I couldn’t tell you everything, if I did you wouldn’t understand, but dreaming is a state of being awake. Most people think their dreams are silly figments of their imagination. But dreams are real. Dreams are alive.”
He spent some time as a “street man” for the old conjure woman. His handsome earnest face brought the curious and the needy in off the street. The old woman solved problems for the later and entertained the former, all for a fee, of course.
His days ended a little before dawn. Josephine usually took him to his dream places. In the late mornings, he would come down and drink coffee in the bright little kitchen and she would explain magic.
“They tell me you know how to make a zombie,” he said to Josephine, one early afternoon. It was more of an opening question than a statement, but he had learned to not be too direct with the old lady.
“They say that, do they?” she answered obscurely.
“Yes, Ma’am, I heard some of your regulars talking about it sometime ago. I think I believe them, because I know you can do a lot of stuff,” Samson replied.
“Stuff, huh? Well, if you believe, then it must be so. You trying to ask me a question?” Josephine said.
“I don’t know, it just seems like something I might want to learn how to do one day,” countered Samson.
The old lady didn’t say anything after that for a few days. One morning she got up pretty early, Samson had heard her rattling around the old house. In a few minutes she rapped on his door firmly.
“Samson, get up we going fishing,” she said.
“Fishing?” asked a puzzled Samson back through the heavy oak door.
“Yes, I said fishing. You still want to learn about zombies don’t you?” she asked. Samson pulled his clothes on and came out of his room. It was not yet six in the morning, but she was ready to go.
She had one basket packed with food. She also had a woven coffee sack with knives, gloves and a little bundle of some kind of strange looking vine. Next to the back door she had two large dip nets.
“What has fishing got to do with zombies,” asked Samson.
“Zombies are spiritually dead creatures. They are dead men walking and they are usually that way before the conjure even gets started. What we do is breathe new life into that soul and make it our own. then we set the mind free to leave the body. Sometimes we take the body, too,” she said.
“Sometimes we leave the body a breathing creature. This creature is what most folks call a zombie. To the conjure the word zombie means captured soul. A captured soul is a powerful tool,” said the old woman.
She spoke all this slowly and when she slowed enough for Samson to feel she was stopped he asked, “You mean a zombie can be a dead person, he don’t have to be walking around?”
“That is the truth,” she replied, “now either way, the conjure has got to take control of them.”
“That is where the fishing come in to it,” she added, handing Samson the basket and sack.
“Let’s go,” she said taking the nets and going out the back door. She never locked the door, there was no need to. She knew she was protected. She just hung a sign on the door that read, “Closed for the Day.”
They headed down to the docks where the fishing boats come in. The first boats were already tied up, though most of the slips were still open, awaiting the return of the night fishermen.
“We could just buy the fish we need, except most fishermen won’t let me touch their boat. they are a very superstitious bunch, you know,” Josephine told Samson.
“What are we going to do then?” asked Samson.
“We gonna recatch us some of their waste catch. See they throw unsalable the fish over board when they sort it. Now they sort a lot of it on the water, but they still end up with hundreds of pounds of “by catch” by the time they get back here. They throw it over the side away from the fish market up here. I got a little dingy. We will row over and dip through the dead fish. We only need a few, but they got to be puffer fish,” Josephine told him.
“Puffer fish, what’s puffer fish?” asked Samson.
“Come on,” she said dragging the little boat out from under a deserted dock, “I’ll show you.”
When they got close to one of the big boats she took out a piece of the weed Samson had noticed earlier in the sack.
“Rub this on your hands and all the way up to your elbows, then put these gloves,” she said handing him the weed and a pair of gloves.
“The liver is the part that can kill you but dealing with dead fish that got squashed in a net full of other fish, some of the puffers might have busted open. If you go all stiff on me, I’d have to ease you over the side and let the chum sharks eat you,” she said.
So be careful and stay alive,” warned the old woman.
Samson looked at her and knew she would do exactly that. He rubbed the vine hard in his palms and spread the sticky green oil on his hands and arms. Then he put on the gloves.
“Now I’m gonna dip’m and I’ll show you which ones and you pick them out of the net and put them down in the sack,” she instructed him. For nearly an hour she dipped and peered into the collection of dead animals in her net. She would point occasionally.
“Get that one, it’s a puffer,” she would say. Samson gingerly reached in a dropped a fish in the sack. By the end of the hour Samson was pretty sure what was a puffer and what wasn’t. They stowed the boat and took their things, including a dozen or so small dead fish back to Josephine’s kitchen.
“Get some old Times-Picayune out of the pantry and cover the table,” said told Samson.
“Now it gets tricky, lay those gloves on the table and put some more of this antidote vine on your hands. I’m gonna do most of this, but you oughta try it too so you know if you ever need to make some for yourself,” said Josephine. She rubbed her hands in the oil thoroughly, then she took a sharp filet knife and turned a puffer on its back. With skilled hands she cut open the belly and found the dark liver, showing Samson what she was doing.
Each liver she dropped in a pot with about a cup and a half of slow boiling water on the stove. When they had removed the liver from each of the fish, she folded the paper over on itself to make a bag, then stuffed it down in the old coffee sack.
“Samson its time for you to burn the trash. Take this out to the can in the backyard and burn it. you need to get a little clean paper to get it started. Make sure it burns completely. We don’t want to kill any neighborhood cats,” she instructed. Samson burned the garbage and returned to the kitchen.
Josephine had put a second pot on the stove and was cooking down more of the green vine.
“One to kill you, one to save you, always make both at the same time,” she explained.
“One drop of this puffer extract will make you numb, two drops will paralyze a man your size. If you add more it will either cause brain damage or cause your heart to stop and you die. Sometimes you just want to give somebody a warning one or two drops is fine. If you surely want to kill someone, use about a dozen. I usually use six for a man and four for a woman. The heart nearly stops for two days.
The doctor calls them dead, they bury them and I dig them up, give them a few drops of antidote and take their soul. Sometimes I bring them walking home, sometimes I leave them in the ground,” She explained.
“Here in Louisiana, the law don’t like the walking dead, so they usually are more trouble than they worth,” added Josephine.
After most of the day on the stove both extracts were heavy oil, one black and deadly, the other green for life. The old conjure woman sold
Samson bought a small brown bottle of each, maybe an ounce of poison and an ounce of lifesaver. It cost him a hundred dollars.
Killing the old woman and taking it for free crossed his mind, but he quickly thought the better of it. This old woman could kill him a thousand ways, even after he killed her. He still had most of the rich woman’s money and Josephine had paid him fair and let him live and eat in her home for free. He paid the money.
The next evening he was out on the sidewalk trying to recruit customers when a man about his age walked by. The man stopped and turned around. he looked hard at Samson.
“You look familiar. You from Texas?” he asked Samson.
“No man, I’m from right here,” answered Samson in his best New Orleans accent. When the man walked on, Samson went inside.
“Josephine, I got to go away for a little while,” he said.
“You in any trouble I can help with, Samson?” she asked.
“No, Ma’am, I just need to disappear for a while,” he said. Josephine nodded. Samson went to pack. When he came out of his room, the old lady gave him his hundred dollars back. It was more than he had com ing, but he took it.
Samson Comes Home 1959
The Mississippi morning sun shone on the blue Caddy as he drove up Hwy 11. He was in Montgomery by early afternoon. Samson spent the night at the Alamo Court just west of town.
In the morning he drove around downtown and found a boarding house in Cloverdale. After Samson unpacked, he drove over to a gas station and bought a coke and some cheese crackers from the vending machines.
“You got an Alabama map?” he asked the attendant.
“Sure,” the man said as he pulled a map out from under the counter, “that’ll be fifty cents.” Samson laid two quarters on the counter and opened the map. He studied it for a minute.
“What you looking for?” the man asked.
“Davis Hill, I thought it was between Montgomery and Wetumpka, but I don’t see anything on the map,” Samson replied.
“No, it won’t be on no map. It’s there alright, though. You just take this here two-thirty-one and when you start up a hill, the first hill you come to is Davis Hill. You going to the Gardens?” said the man.
“No, I don’t know about no gardens, I got personal business up that way,” replied Samson.
“Well, you just go on up that road, like I said, the first hill, you know that is the very beginning of the Blue Ridge Mountains, runs from there to Canada, I think. Anyway, you’ll know it. It’s a real hill,” the man continued. Samson thanked him and drove away.
The man was telling the truth, the land was flat down near the river, but a hill rose up out of the ground and US Hwy 231 sloped up the side of it. At the base of the hill was a little gas shack of a Texaco station. In spite of the good money Texaco spent on TV, the toothless fat little man in a pair of overalls did not look like a man you would want to trust your car to, star or no star.
“I looking for the Davis’ of Davis Hill. This is Davis Hill, isn’t it?” asked Samson.
“Sure it is,” said the little man, pushing a wad of snuff down in front of where his teeth used to be with his tongue. He spat.
“Ain’t no Davis’ of Davis Hill, no more. There’s the Gardens, but a Montgomery man owns most of the Hill now, has for sixty years or so. Only Davis up on that hill is niggers, boy. You looking for niggers?” the fat man laughed.
“Oh yeah, there is a Davis up there, but he ain’t a Davis either, he’s a Jones, his grandma was the last Davis. She died last winter. Mean old woman, she was,” he continued toothlessly.
“This Jones fellow, he’s the last Davis up here? The rest of all move away?” asked Samson.
“No boy, they all died. They was cursed, they was,” spat the man.
“Where could I find this Jones?” asked Samson, tiring of the spitting and gummy speak of the attendant.
“Oh he lives over on the west side, the nigger side they call May’s Hill,” said the man.
“May’s Hill? Who is May?” asked Samson, with renewed interest.
“She’s the nigger mama of all them Davis niggers up there. One of the white one’s gave her a whole section about a hundred years ago.
Somehow Jones and his grandma ended up on that side of the hill. But I wouldn’t go waltzing in on Bobby Jones. He don’t put much stock in surprises. If you want to run into him, he goes down to the Elmwood, downtown on Jefferson, pretty regular. Anytime after dark, he’s likely to be there, ‘cept on Fridays, he has a poker game at his house then,” said the man.
“How about two dollars worth of high-test for my Caddy?” asked Samson.
He had filled up in town the day before and could have driven nearly all the way back to New Orleans on the tank, but he thought he owed the man a couple of bucks. He drove around Davis Hill most of the afternoon. It was a beautiful piece of land, home to mostly little black cottages. He couldn’t find the old Plantation house anywhere. He had no way of knowing it had burnt down before he was born.
About dark he headed back to Montgomery. After a pretty good dinner of fried catfish, he drove downtown. That evening he stopped at the Elmwood. It looked like a good place to be alone and have a drink even if Bobby didn’t show up. Maybe the bartender could answer a few questions if Samson could figure out how to ask them without raising any suspicions.
A big man in a plaid shirt was holding court with three other men and what seemed to be a retarded pup of a light skinned negro. The plaid man was ranting about ‘niggers’, but seemed almost fond of what looked like a black man drinking at his table in a white man’s bar. Samson shook out a Camel, spit a little loose bit of tobacco on the floor and lit it. He drank his whiskey and listened.
“I ought to kill that fool, but he’s just some idiot, I’m here to take care of family business,” Samson thought.
After another whiskey Samson grew more irritated and the plaid man got louder. Now he was taunting the others about who had the courage to kill a ‘nigger’. Samson stood up and walked over to the table.
“Mister, I don’t know who you are, but you sure like to talk about niggers, looks like you got a high yellow at your elbow,” Samson said.
“This is Dup,” the plaid man said, “and I’m Robert Davis Jones, but everybody calls me ‘Bobby’.”
“Yeah, you could say Dup here is a high yellow, but he is my last living relative on account of a long line of niggers killing off nearly every man, woman and child in my family. They took my folks and my birthright, but Dup here is more white than most folks in Alabama.”
“That so?” asked Samson.
“Hell yeah its so. Dup’s daddy was my grandpa and his mama was one fourth white on account of my great great grandpa. Makes him five – eighths white, so you want a drink or do you to fight. You could leave, get your ass kicked or sit down and have a whiskey on me. It’s your choice,” continued Bobby. Samson shook hands and sat down to drink whiskey. He couldn’t believe his luck, either half of Alabama was a bunch of mixed up families or this could be the man he was looking for.
“How the hell did niggers kill off your family and steal your birthright?” he asked.
Over several more whiskeys bought back and forth, Bobby told him of old Ben Davis and his slave child that killed him with a plow, of May getting a section of land from Ben, Jr., of a black servant spilling a tray of lamps and killing Ben, Jr. and leaving his Granny a homeless orphan, of a black girl giving his Grandfather a fatal case of the flu, who in turn gave it to his own mother, of a scared black kid killing his own father with a German shell.
“This is my fool cousin,” thought Samson. When Bobby invited him to join the weekly poker party up at the Hill, Samson accepted. They drank and cussed until the bartender closed the place down and run them home.
The next day Samson recovered from the night before, then in the evening he decided to test Josephine’s medicine. He said good night to the landlady, who was relieved that he didn’t go out again after the first night. he had explained that he met a long lost cousin and they stayed out way later than his usual bedtime.
The room had a private entrance but she made it clear that midnight was plenty late enough for a single man to out. Samson made a note to tell her he was staying overnight at his cousin’s on Friday night.
Samson closed his door, turned on the table lamp by his bed and put a towel against the door so he could leave the light on without disturbing the landlady. He took a drop of black oil and put it on his tongue. In a few moments he was numb, he could barely move. With great effort, he took the bottle and touched one more drop to his lips. He carefully sat the bottle down and lay back against the pillow. For hours he could not move, his breathing was weak and he almost fainted. About midnight he was able to move again. He turned out the light and went to sleep.
On Sunday Samson went out early and got a copy of the Montgomery Advertiser. In the want ads, he found a listing under sales: Radio ad salesman at Big Bam, WBAM AM, “the sound of the south,” only professionals need apply. It gave an address, so Monday morning Samson drove over to the station and applied for the job.
“What experience do you have Mr. Davis?” asked Jerry Longhower, the station manager.
“I was at KMLA in Los Angeles, I did alright there,” he answered.
“L.A.?” asked Jerry, “who was your station manager there?”
“Well, I don’t know how things work around here but out west they go through management pretty fast. I worked for four different guys in four years. One went to Seattle, then who knows where, the next one went to WABC in New York. The last I heard, he got fired for doing the bosses wife. I tried to keep in touch with all of them, in case I needed a connection somewhere down the line. I really did, but like I say, in this line of work out west people just get to be a blur,” lied Samson.
“Yeah, I hear they live pretty fast in California, what about the next two?” asked Jerry.
The next guy was Terry LaSalle, he ended selling insurance then used automobiles. Somebody tried to steal a car when he took them on a demo. Somebody pulled a gun, the cops think it was LaSalle, but it was Terry who got killed,” said Samson, he knew about this because he had read it in the Los Angeles Times at the restaurant one morning.
“And your last Boss?” asked Jerry, pulling out a pack of Winston filter tips. As he shook one out, Samson watched and thought, “filter tip, this guy is kinda soft,” but he answered, “maybe you heard about Tommy Garcia. That’s kinda why I left.”
“They arrested him and started talking about payola and more investigations. Hey my hands are clean but I don’t need the grief,” replied Samson as he lit a Camel.
“If I can’t talk to nobody, how do I know you can sell spots?” asked Jerry.
“Look out that window,” said Samson, pointing over Jerry’s shoulder.
“See that fifty-eight Caddy, I own that free and clear. Like I said, I did okay,” continued Samson.
“Hey, its sales, you don’t pay me if I don’t produce, right. Trust me, I sell spots. What’s the rates and what’s my cut. Do you pay weekly or twice a month?” bluffed Samson, if he could hustle suckers off the street into a dark witch’s room, selling spots would be a piece of cake.
“Okay, you got a point, but why are you in Alabama if you are such a hotshot?” asked Jerry.
“I got an old aunt about to die just outside of town and I was the only unattached member of the family, I come back t look after her, and like I said, after the payola crap, I wanted a change of scenery,” Samson lied again.
“Okay, Samson, you got the job, on a trail basis,” said Jerry.
“Fine by me, all sales jobs are on a trail basis as long as you have them in my experience,” smile Samson.
“Oh, one more thing, said Jerry, pointing at Samson’s Camel, “you gonna have to give them up.”
“What you mean? Your salesmen can’t smoke?” asked a stunned Samson.
“No, no, I mean the Camels, Winston Filter Tip is our station sponsor. You get two free cartons each week, but they don’t want a salesman smoking a competitor’s brand,” explained Jerry.
“Oh great now I get to be a sissy smoking filters, too,” thought Samson, but he said, “Sure, hey if they want to buy my smokes, I’ll smoke them.”
Samson started the next day and never made “Cadillac” money but he made enough to keep the rent paid and gas in the Caddy.
The Friday night poker games turned out to have a special treat in store for Samson. After a few weeks, the boys felt comfortable enough to invite Samson to come on a “dog food hunt”. When they caught a poor black man coming late down a dirt road on the east side of the Hill about a mile from the bungalow, Samson was surprised. Not sickened, just surprised, by now he was desensitized to killing. It was his forth, and this one he didn’t even have to do the killing.
The next time they went out, he made sure he was the first off the truck. He tackled the victim, then held him down with his foot while Bobby clubbed the black man senseless.
Dup would have liked to have killed each captured man with his bare hands. In the haze that was Dup’s brain, the violence was about the only thrill he had experienced. Bobby insisted on bringing the “dog food” home alive, he had read that wild dogs only ate live kills and he didn’t want any bodies laying around stinking and drawing unwanted attention.
To pacify Dup, Bobby gave his cousin the job of tossing the men over the fence to their deaths. The others would cluster around the kitchen window and watch the dogs tear each living man apart. “Gladiator Sport” is what Bobby called it. Samson thought it was pretty cowardly but he slapped Bobby on the back and suggested another round of whiskey. the whiskey was Bobby’s and he was never stingy after a kill.
Luther and Lucy 1908
Lucy was Luther’s granddaughter. She was beautiful beige skinned gem, with long black hair and green eyes. Everybody said she looked like her Great Uncle Bo. That is the old folks. By now Bo had been gone almost thirty years, he was hardly more than a rumor.
“As to Bo, “her own Grandpa Luther said, “he was tall and lean with a long thin face and eyes as green as pine needles. He had a well shaped nose and a strong chin. His body was hard as a rock not from breaking his back picking cotton, he hardly ever got his hands dirty. He just looked like a man an artist had sculpted out of very light brown clay.
His hair was as black and straight as your, child. He had long thin fingers and was as good at counting numbers as the smartest white man you ever saw. Yes, better than Mr. Robert, sure child, much better.” Luther settled back against the clean fluffy pillow, resting his own long silver hair against the starched linen. He looked out the south window. The morning sun played over the white government buildings in Montgomery.
“Child, I was born on this mountain because of a white man’s foolishness. We’ve been good to Davis Hill, even it when it spit on us children of Africa.”
“What you mean, Grandpa?” asked Lucy.
“Well, Momma May was pure African, you know.”
“You mean she was born in Africa?”
“No, child. She was born right across that river but she didn’t carry no white blood in her veins. Luther flashed her a toothless, May-like smile. “Her Grandpa, he was born over there. Yes, Ma’am. And Old Mr. Monroe went down to New Orleans round about 1780, I reckon and bought her for a few silver dollars.
Your Great Grandma, she had trouble with white men wanting what she had. I suspect you’ll be having the same fit. Now being part white sure ain’t been all bad but you were born free. You don’t need a white man’s pass. Find yourself a strong African boy and name your first son Luther.”
“It’ll be Luther something, unless its a girl. Then I know what I’ll call her. Lucy May for me and Momma May.”
“Child, there is something I have got to give you. It was your Grand mama May’s,” said Luther, she gave it to me the day you were born. It’s a quilt, but it ain’t no ordinary quilt. This quilt carries some of your family history on it.
He told her the story of the day her Grandmother wore a white girl’s dress, of the dress burning, of old Annie saving a square and putting it in the quilt, of the circuit rider and the Union raiders and the leather glove, of Tommy and of the first Mr. Davis and the sadness of his on birth.
“Now May told me, ‘give this to little Lucy when she is old enough to understand. I won’t be here when that day comes, but she might need it.’ Well, I don’t know if thirteen is old enough but it will have to do, because I’m going to see Mama May here real soon,” said Luther.
“You run along now, child, and you do that. And send your Momma in here. I think Ole Luther done got himself some dying to do and you don’t need to see none of that.” The window sashes were open and Luther closed his eyes and drew in as much Alabama delta air as he could get in his lungs.
By the time Lucy’s Mom had made out what Luther had told Lucy and ran up the creaky oak staircase, he was resting on May’s bosom for the first time in years. She closed the window, kissed her father’s cheek and went down to send for the doctor and the preacher.
Luther didn’t get the kind of funeral that the last son of Benjamin Franklin Davis deserved. Miss Betty saw to that. Lucy’s Mom sent around for all the black folks and paid for four black horses to pull Luther’s coffin up to the tallest poplar tree on the Hill and she paid for a granite stone sent all the way from Huntsville. It was engraved forever:
Son of Benjamin Franklin Davis
and May Monroe
1860 – 1908
Betty was furious but she couldn’t do a thing about it. That marker set in a clearing in the shade of that old poplar and bore witness to all.
Robert Jones and Lucy 1908
Lucy’s father was Joshua Brown, he grew up in a sharecroppers home just south of Montgomery. When Ben, Jr. leased out the Hill, the man who farmed it brought in some outside blacks to do the work. He thought having new people would keep the Davis’ from knowing all his business. The only problem with this strategy was the young men often tired of working in a strange place and would leave after a season or two.
By 1890 he was still hiring Montgomery negroes and promising them more and more to get them to come up to the Hill. One of the young men he brought in about then was Joshua. As the hired hands stayed in the old cabins in the former slave quarters, they were close to May’s Hill. It was only a matter of time before he met Luther and Emma’s young daughter, Lilly. Lilly was named in honor of Emma’s mother. To Joshua, she was the ‘Lilly of the Valley’. Before the autumn of 1891, Joshua had spoken to Luther and Luther had spoken to Emma and Emma had spoken to Lilly. Joshua proved to be another failure from the farmer’s perspective. Joshua married Lilly, moved to May’s Hill and helped Luther clear the lower slopes of the hill land. They terrace farmed and between the two of them they greatly expanded the cash income of the little ‘colored farm.’
In 1895 Lilly gave birth to a beautiful little girl they named Lucy. Joshua sometimes carried her on his shoulders as he plowed and sang her songs he learned as a child. He took her fishing in the little creek and told her stories about Montgomery.
But by her fourth birthday Joshua signed up to be a Buffalo Soldier and shipped out to Tampa, Florida, the staging ground for Teddy Roosevelt’s invasion of Cuba. Joshua was wounded in the riots that followed the death of a young girl in Tampa. Some drunken Ohio soldiers decided a little negro girl would make great target practice. When Joshua heard about the killing all he could think of was his little Lucy. If he hadn’t been shot in the leg by a military policeman he would likely have been killed or court-martialled for killing.
Joshua recovered the gunshot well enough to be shipped out in a few weeks and was there the day the Buffalo Soldiers rescued Teddy and his Rough Riders. Joshua was in the front lines of soldiers as the Spanish soldiers opened up with, what was later called by survivors, “a hail of bullets”. Joshua was a little slow in getting to cover due to his leg and a piece of Spanish lead killed him almost instantly.
Lucy was loved by Lilly, Emma and old Luther, but she never found a way to fill the hole left by Joshua’s death until Miss Betty’s wedding to Robert Jones. Betty and Robert moved onto May’s Hill when May gave them the forty acres. Betty became withdrawn, especially towards May’s family.
After May died in 1904 Robert began a habit of walking over to the edge of his little plot and chatting with Luther and Emma in the evenings. Sometimes Lilly would let Lucy go with her grandparents for these informal visits. Eventually Robert befriended the little girl who latched onto this new father figure.
As she developed into a teenager, and as Robert confided more and more in her about his cold wife, there friendship turned to a physical relationship. In a perverse trade she got the loving father she wanted and he got a sex partner he had been denied for nearly a decade.
They were discreet, mostly. More to prevent the wrath of Betty coming down on them than to prevent the outrage of the Lucy’s family.
Luther thought he saw her giving the white man an inappropriate kiss a couple of times, but couldn’t figure out how to confront a white man, even a white man who was a guest on his mother’s land. Too many years and too much grief had come to his family from his white relatives. Luther kept what he saw to himself.
The year Luther died, Lucy became pregnant. Lilly and Emma were disappointed but not surprised. And no one was surprised that the baby which she named Luther Brown, looked not only white but very much like both the Davis and the Jones whites. Children born of these kind of relationships were not unusual in the south around the turn of the century. The real heartbreak for Lucy was that little Luther, who everyone called “Dup,” was very slow witted.
Maybe she was too young, maybe God was punishing her. Every old woman, black and white, had a theory. But they all agreed that double white negro was just dumb.
In 1919, the plague of influenza hit May’s Hill about as bad as anywhere in the world. Within weeks Robert Jones, Emma, Lucy and the new mother , Mary Shorter Jones died. The 1919 flu was unusual in a couple of ways.
Most flu epidemics kill the very old and the very young, but this one took people in their prime and often spared the oldest and the youngest. It also had a very high mortality rate compared with others flues and it came with rapid onset. A young healthy male could come out of the field at noon, feel too weak to return by the end of his meal, and be dead by morning.
Robert Davis Jones 1901-1919
Robert Davis Jones was the first Davis to be born a poor aristocrat. He arrived a little over a year after the destruction of Davis Hill as a plantation. There had been tough years before, during and after the Civil War. Tough years, but always wealth. From the time that Ben Davis began to successfully farm the nearly two square mile of bottom land until his accidental death nearly twenty-five years later, the land and the slaves had made money for the Davis’.
Emancipation still left the farm hands little better standard of living and gave the landowner the option of letting them not work and thus not get paid if the cotton was poor in any given year. Plantation owners like Davis managed to keep his former slave work force in tact because their only option was to share crop with nearby plantations who would not offer better terms nor even often hire them due to a standard ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the landowners. Unless a farmer had a surplus of help a neighbor would not ‘steal the help’. When times were good the plantation could afford to pay the former slaves relatively good wages, then deduct living expenses back from the wage. This left the ‘free black’ financially indentured.
When times were bad, the farmer could let the blacks live in the shanties, not work them and let them run up a debt for the next year when there was work. Either way, the first money went to the landowner and in good years the black man might get a few dollars and food and shelter.
After Ben Jr. took over he got a steady lease payment and the land was its own wealth. Only his vain gamble to improve the Hill to ‘real plantation standing had cost the family their security. Betty never blamed her parents. She could not see either Ben Jr.’s willingness to mortgage the place to build a monument to Anna, himself and the Davis clan, nor her mother’s willingness to let him squander her daughter’s birthright. She saw a Camelot, a bright and shinning moment bookended by negroes killing her ancestors.
She vowed to herself that her son would be given the best she could arrange and then he could redeem this disaster her spineless husband had forced upon them.
She insisted Robert Jones borrow any money he could from his family. She made sure he took every minute over extra work he could get. Little Robert barely knew he was poor, he was tutored with the son of Jane Shorter, Betty’s best friend, he was always clothed in the fashion of the day.
He hardly ever saw his father. He learned to think of his father as a worthless interloper from the constant slanderous commentary that spewed from his mother’s lips. To spite his father’s family naval history, as well as to reestablish the Davis legacy that Betty schemed to get Robert Davis Jones commissioned to West Point and not Annapolis. To her dismay, Robert could not join the war in Europe until November 1918.
Rumors were swirling of an end to the Great War as she watched her young, proud officer sail east. By the time Officer Jones reached England it was the 12th and the countryside was in a state of explosive celebration.
Robert did not celebrate, he knew he would not get a chance to show his great valor, no promotions due to a great battle taking his senior officers, no testimony from his comrades as to his daring action saving the troops. He sat in his quarters and awaited orders. A week after his arrival, the orders came.
“Officer Jones,” called the 1st Lieutenant from the doorway.
Jones jumped to attention, “Yes Sir!”
“You come from a Plantation down south don’t you?” continued Lt. Bragg.
“Yes Sir, its not really our Plantation anymore, but yes I do,” answered a now puzzled Jones.
“Good, you ought to take your assignment well,” explained Bragg, Bragg continued, “we’re giving you a crew of niggers to go dig up unexploded munitions.”
“With all due respect, Sir, I didn’t sign up for the Negro Army,” Jones fought to contain his disappointment.
“Well, of course not, Jones, nobody did, except for the niggers themselves, I suppose. Our problem is that they them let fight against y’all and now we all are stuck with them,” said Bragg.
“Anyway, this unexploded munitions detail is too dangerous to waste whites on, but we got to have officers. Every Negro command has a white officer. That is the good news, Jones, you’ll be a commanding officer immediately,” stated Bragg, sympathetically.
“Yes, Sir,” said a furious, but resigned Jones.
“Your papers say you ship out to France at Oh- six hundred hours in the morning, so get your stuff together and get a good night’s sleep,” concluded Bragg.
Jones was given a crew of black men who were about as happy to be there as he was. They were even less happy to have a black hating southern white for a commander, but they carried shovels, pry bars, tongs and “prods” long iron bars sharpened on the end to probe the earth for solid objects, while he carried a revolver. Half the time they sweated in fear only to unearth a large rock.
Jones would taunt them, “You niggers scared of rocks? I thought y’all was used to digging around in the dirt.”
They would fume and sometimes mutter to one another, but this was a white man’s army. As one of the grunts put it, “Us coloreds spend our lives chopping some white man’s cotton, so we join the Army, just to be shipped half way around the world to dig up some white man’s artillery.”
Jones and his men, covered acres and acres of boredom broken only by inches of terror when they struck something suspicious. Ben leaned against a low stone fence and thought about his new bride, the former Mary Shorter. He had known Mary most of his life. When he studied with her brother James she was just a little girl running around getting in the way. In the last couple of years before he left for West Point, he had noticed her change from annoying little girl to a lovely young woman.
He also noticed a change in himself, at first he was just awkward around her, then he got to where he had less to say to James and wanted to spend every minute with Mary. Right before he left for the Academy he asked the fifteen year old Mary to marry him when he graduated. When he came home for two weeks before getting shipped out they married and honeymooned. In the consummation of the marriage Mary had become pregnant.
Now Mary was sending him mail every week since he received a permanent base. She was carrying his child, a son, she believed and he hoped. He wished he back at Davis Hill with Mary and Betty.
Betty hated the twist of fate that had left her prize son so far away doing dirty, deadly work when the glory days were long over. A “blood curse” she called it.
She felt the Davis’ had been cursed since her silly Grandfather sired the evil bunch of slave children. “Niggers here, niggers there, and now niggers all over the world.”
It never occurred to her that the black soldiers were doing the real deadly work, of course it never could have, as she was conditioned to think of blacks as the work horse of the world. Let him pull the load you can’t, begrudge him his little oats and straw, and simply replace him when he can’t pull the load anymore.
Jones sat on the fence several yards away from his men, thinking about Mary and her last letter. “It’s a boy, I’m almost certain, we will name him Robert Davis Jones, Jr. We can call him ‘Bobby’ or Junior, but I want him to have your name.”
Jones wondered about whether his son should have to wear a title that had not brought him any luck so far in life. But no matter, he hoped she was right. He wanted a son.
As a military man, and he intended on staying in the Army, he could give his son an honorable start in life. He would not be some miserable weakling like his own father had been. Maybe his son could build on an officer’s life and be a Senator or Governor.
Between them, they could rebuild the great lineage interrupted by the humiliating defeat of the Southern Army a half of a century earlier. Jones could see the respect a Davis-Jones scion could command in politics…
“Lt. Jones, sir, I think I got something sir,” a young black boy maybe fifteen years old was holding a prod and speaking to him. Jones stirred from his Alabama daydream.
“Dig it out carefully, boy,” cautioned Jones.
“Mr. Lt. sir, I can’t,” sputtered the boy.
“Can’t, boy?” asked Jones.
“No sir, It’s gonna blow, I know it is, ” continued the boy.
“Boy, are you a soldier?” asked Jones, as he unstrapped the flap on his sidearm.
“Yes sir, I’m a soldier, I just don’t want to be blown to Mississippi this morning,” answered the young soldier.
“You aren’t going to be blown anywhere, be careful and dig around it,” instructed Jones.
“No sir!” insisted the young man.
Jones rested his hand on his pistol butt, “Boy, that shell might blow up or it might not, but if you don’t start now, you are going to be one dead nigger.”
Jones was following a clearly understood policy. any subordinate who refused an order was opening the door to chaos, and any black man refusing a white commander’s order was risking summary execution.
So as Ben unsheathed the Colt, the frightened and enraged young soldier turned back to the explosive shell. Normally, as lieutenant, Jones stood far enough away to avoid immediate danger, while remaining close enough to enforce orders as needed. In the process of persuading the young man to return to the dig site, he had followed to within thirty feet of the half exposed shell.
When the young man turned to follow the order, Ben slipped his pistol back into it’s holster. He was still letting out a sigh of relief when the soldier jabbed hard at the shell with his pointed iron rod. the blast wedged the bar into his spine and lifted him up, carried through the air the nearly thirty feet. The blunt end of the prod stuck out of the back of his uniform more than two feet. It hit Lt. Jones in the left eye socket. The nearly dead soldier lay on top of a very dead Ben Davis Jones, the prod impaled through the skull of the lieutenant and on a foot deep in the miserable place that was once a field of wild flowers.
The gross hors d’oeuvres twitched for a moment in the soft French sunlight. The poor young black soldier took a few seconds to die. His final joyous thought, ” I killed the son of a bitch white man and can’t nobody do nothing to me about it. He smiled through the pain and died.
At first Betty only knew her son died in the service of his country. The same week Mary died from the flu, only weeks after giving birth to Robert (Bobby) Davis Jones, Jr., one of Jones fellow officers felt the need to share the details of Jones gruesome death in a letter she received a few weeks later.
The spring of 1920 found two widows trying to raise newly orphaned grandsons on May’s Hill. The widows were cousins but never spoke to one another. Lilly blamed Robert Jones for Lucy’s death and the tragedy of little Dup. Betty saw it in reverse, Lucy gave Robert the flu who in turn gave it to poor Mary. Betty just chalked up one more wrong done to her family by those murderous savages.
“God Damn murderous savages!” Betty had never said that out loud before, being a proper lady, she had thought it before but never actually said it out loud. “God Damn murderous savages,” she repeated. Yes, she could say that, lady or no lady, she had earned the right.
Bobby 1929 – 1959
Little Bobby would sit on that porch with half concrete and half brick columns and listen to his beloved grandmother teach from the Bible. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so the whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” She also often said, when some Monroe-Davis black or some later-comer-to-the-hill black walked by the front of the little white clapboard house, “Niggers, damnable murderous savages!”
Betty was the only parental figure in little Bobby’s life. By 1919, when Bobby was born, Ben, Sr. had been dead nearly forty years, Ben, Jr. for twenty, Robert Jones for a decade and both of his parents died before his first birthday.
One day when Bobby was around ten years old, Betty was again telling him the stories of all the deaths. Betty wasn’t especially more morbid than most of her peers. Death of ancestors was a common way of passing on family lore. After she finished the narration from that fatal spring morning in 1880 that cost the first Ben his life to the gruesome death of poor Bobby’s own father, Bobby spoke up.
“Mama Betty, I don’t understand,” he said.
“Don’t understand what, Honey?” Betty asked.
“Well, you are always telling about Jesus and how he protects me, and them niggers are all evil, with hearts as black as their skin,” Bobby explained.
“Yes, that’s true, Baby, Jesus loves you, he’s your only protection from those murderous savages,” confirmed Betty.
“But if he protects us from the niggers, how come they killed off everybody? Why didn’t Jesus protect them?” Bobby wanted to know.
“Well, you know what it says in the Bible about you must have a pure heart,” Betty explained.
“You mean, you can’t have one of them dirty black hearts?” asked Bobby.
“That’s right, if you do bad things, God will punish you. See that’s what happened to my grandfather, Ben, Sr. He started the whole curse. He adulterated with that slave woman May. It was the very child the slave woman bore him that killed him. That had to be God’s hand in that,” expounded Betty.
“Yes’m, but what about Grandpa Jones and my own Daddy?” asked Bobby.
“Oh, that was the same thing, you know ‘Dup’, don’t you? Your wicked grandfather took a little nigger girl to bed while we were married. That poor nigger baby ain’t right in the head. That’s God’s punishment, too.
And your Grandpa died from a flu he caught from that little tramp, and even let it kill you sweet mother. And your dear father, the way he died, being brave and good and then getting killed in such a awful way, that, too was God,” Betty explained, growing agitated thinking of the harm her wicked husband had brought down on her.
“But wasn’t my Mama and Daddy good Christians? Why did they both have to die?” asked Bobby, aching for the parents he never knew.
“Oh Baby, yes they were very good people. That is why it is so important to live a good life. If you fornicate with niggers and do other wicked things, you will suffer and so will your children for generations.
We are all still paying for my Grandfather’s sins from the 1860s.” Betty philosophized.
“But Mama Betty, aren’t some of the niggers good folks, like the one who gave you and Grandpa this place after the great fire?” questioned Bobby.
“No child, that was the same one that started the whole thing so long ago, she was the worst of all, that was the same slave woman May. We should have had the whole hill all along. Your birthright is the whole twenty-two hundred acres that my Grandpa bought before the War of Northern Aggression,” Betty explained.
“War of Northern Aggression?” Bobby looked quizzical.
“You know the War between the States, when they freed the slaves and tried to destroy the good people of the South,” Betty clarified.
“Oh, Yes’m. Well, if she was evil for giving this land, was your Daddy bad for giving her May’s Hill?” asked Bobby, trying to follow the threads of good and evil that seemed to keep tying his family to the murderous savages.
“No, that was different, but don’t you ever call this place May’s Hill! This is Davis Hill, from the river to the top of the ridge. Even if we don’t own it anymore, it is still ours and it has our name,” Betty was livid.
“I’m sorry, Mama Betty, the field hands that work the bottom land call it that,” said Bobby, hurt that Betty was angry at him.
“Oh Baby, I’m not mad at you. I just get mad at the people who want to call this part of Davis Hill after that whore of Babylon,” said Betty, consoling the young orphan.
The thirties rolled around and his teen years burned by in the hard lean depression of the south from which Mr. Roosevelt couldn’t completely save them. Mama Betty began to blame the latest poverty on ‘niggers and more niggers’ while clinging to her faith upon whom one would not perish, Bobby found his own answers.
Betty’s answers no longer satisfied his mind, so he came up with his own. Every white male in his grandmother’s life had worshipped Jesus, who would not let those who believe perish. Yet all of them, except him, had perished on account of the evil in the hearts of the negroes and the sin they committed or didn’t commit with the negroes.
So the only truth he carried with him on Confederates Day 1959 when Betty lay down and stopped hating was that negroes were stronger than the power of the blood of Sweet Jesus. If you could kill a ‘savage nigger’, you would be doing a good thing. You would be helping Jesus not to have died in vain. It wasn’t hatred so much at first as much as it was missionary work. Only later, when he was befriended by a fellow racist and they began to sit around the bungalow ”til all hours drinking whiskey and hatred mixed equal parts and served in doubles did Bobby hate as much as he loved Betty.
Bobby turned forty, unmarried, orphaned so completely his nearest living relative was Lucy’s retarded son by Robert Jones. Everybody called him ‘Dup’, which was short for double white negro.
Lucy’s grandfather was Luther, the half white son of old Ben Davis, who married his first cousin, Emma, the half white daughter of T. Jeff Davis, making Lucy 1/4 white, but she looked more like half white herself. Her son, Luther ‘Dup’ Jones Monroe was half white again from Robert Jones meaning he was more white than black, but “a nigger all the same in Alabama.” Somehow the fact that Dup was 5/8ths white made a difference to lonely bitter Bobby. After Betty died he took Dup in.
Though Dup was nearly his age, Bobby treated more like a child. Not as one might wish a father to treat his child, but much as one might expect considering the Davis-Jones-Monroe family for a hundred years. Love mixed with abuse like piss with spring water. Just enough love to pollute the pure hatred and all of it clouded by poor Dup’s weak mind. A mind so weak as to learn to hate black folk almost as much as Bobby did. Willingly going along with the hateful atrocities that emanated from ‘the Klan House’ as it was called in the summer of 1959.
Bobby would cuss at him, yelling how stupid a nigger he was, but feeding and keeping a roof over him and defending him from other racists who drifted in and out of the bungalow. Bobby would tell anyone who called Dup a nigger, “Nigger? He’s probably more white than you are.” That would be the end of any problem they had with Dup. He was one of the guys even if he was dumb as a tree.
Biting the Hand 1959
Samson lay on the strange bed in the little front room of the bungalow. Dup usually slept here, but Samson was white company so he got the room. Dup had to take the couch.
It had been a hard evening. After several hours of cussing and poker, he helped Bobby and his little renegade Klan catch and kill a brother colored man for sport. Samson went right along. He knew he had to gain their trust. Blood on his hands was pretty good proof that he was part of them.
He tried to sleep, but the shadows bothered him. He turned on the lamp beside the bed. Samson noticed a very old looking quilt at the foot of the bed. He picked it up and unfolded it. It looked like it could have been a slave quilt. The fabric was worn heavy work cloth of the lowest quality, except one square. The odd piece was the palm of a leather work glove, sewn on top of a shiny piece of dress fabric. The dress fabric just kind of peeked around the edges of the worn leather. It was very much out of place.
Samson fingered it thoughtlessly, suddenly he felt a presence, the hair on his neck tingled. He looked towards the foot of the bed and saw an old black woman.
“You come to make trouble, you going to kill our people. This is my land. Don’t be coming in my house defiling the blood of my good son,” the figure spoke softly to him.
“Are you a ghost? Is this some kind of trick the whiskey is playing on me?” asked Samson, in a whisper.
“I know about the conjure lady. I know about fish poison. You can’t avenge the wrongs done here. There are too many and they are all mixed up. You are good and evil just like you are black and white. What is going on here is evil again, but this is not your evil. This is not the evil you came to avenge. You must leave. You have killed enough,” she said.
Samson stared in disbelief, “who are you?,”
“Your great grand mother, May. Do you know why they call you Samson?” she asked.
“Because of the Bible, I suppose,” answered Samson, not sure whether he should be talking to this apparition or just leaving.
“Well, in part that’s true, but there’s more to it,” she told him about Shaker Brown and the quilt and how she used to read the Samson stories to Bo and Luther,
“Look at that quilt again, look close under the glove. There is a old thin piece of paper in there,” she said. Samson looked at the funny square on the quilt, He saw a little fold of paper.
“Take it out and read it,” she said, then she faded.
Samson got up. He certainly couldn’t sleep in that room that night, maybe not any night. He poured a glass of Bobby’s good whiskey and lit one of his free filter tip Winstons. He sat at the dining table and read the two chapters of Judges it contained.
He felt all creepy. He steeled himself and put the paper back in the quilt. In the morning he left before the others got up and drove drunkenly down to Montgomery. He found a diner open early and ordered breakfast. At seven am he went by his room and cleaned up.
He sold three new ads for the Country Jamboree Hour. Lack of sleep and being scared to death didn’t seem to hurt his sales at all.
The following Friday he drove up to the Hill after work as usual. Samson wasn’t worried about the Samson stories or the old ghost woman. He had convinced himself he had only imagined it all because he drank too much.
Bobby was already drinking and playing solitaire. By the time the rest of the gang arrived Bobby had finished the bottle he had been working on all day. Everybody took advantage of Bobby’s good whiskey when they came for poker. Usually Bobby won, so they felt like it was a partial way to get their money back. Dup didn’t like whiskey, the good stuff or rotgut. He drank beer.
Samson knew this and had worked out a plan. He would get Dup to help him. At first he had hoped to poor dumb negro would help willingly, but he realized that Dup was first of all loyal to Bobby. Bobby’s plan was to give himself a good shot of the green vine extract, then add most of the black oil to the whiskey. The puffer extract would color the whiskey a little but it was less than an ounce. He had tried a few drops in a glass at a bar one night to see what the dose was needed and to see how much it changed to the color. Some lonely drunk was sitting at the other end of the bar in the Elmwood.
When the man went to relive himself, Samson eased down to that end of the bar and stood like he was looking at the jukebox. It was pretty dark so when he shook about five drops in the glass, nobody noticed. Samson hung out at the jukebox until the drunk returned. The man took a couple of sips, then he slid to one side and landed on the empty stool next to where he was sitting. Samson caught him and eased him to a sitting position under the bar.
Samson took the glass and said, to anyone listening, “I think he’s had enough.” Then he walked back to the restroom, held the glass up to the light and saw that it still looked like whiskey. Samson poured it down this sink and set it on the bar with a fifty cent piece as he walked back to his seat. The bartender never missed the drunk and Samson sat there for several hours and watched the man under the bar.
A little before midnight, after sitting motionless, crouched against the floor, the man stirred. Samson paid his tab and went back to the boarding house room. It didn’t kill him and it didn’t ‘ruin’ the drink. Samson was satisfied.
Now Samson was in the kitchen at the Klan House, “Bobby, you want me to bring another bottle?” he asked.
“Sure, fix yourself one and bring the rest of the bottle in here for us to share,” replied Bobby, then he added, “there’s a full case under the counter.”
Samson took a full bottle out, poured a glass for himself, added a few drops of green oil and three pieces of ice. Then he topped the bottle off with about a half of an ounce from the puffer black oil. He screwed the cap back on and turned the bottle back and forth a couple of times. The whiskey looked very near to normal. If you had two bottles next to each other, the poisoned bottle would seem a shade darker. By itself no one even noticed when he brought the ice bucket and new bottle.
Everyone except Dup followed Bobby’s lead and topped of their glasses.
“Who want to lose to Ol’ Bobby tonight?” asked Bobby, picking up the solitaire stacks, shuffling and reshuffling the cards.
Everyone sat down without answering. Bobby dealt. Bobby won the first two hands.
“How come we always have to play poker at your house?” asked John.
“Where you wanna play? You gonna get free whiskey anywhere else” asked Bobby.
“No, I mean how come every time we come up here we spend all night and half my paycheck playing this damn card game. I would rather be hunting down niggers for dog food,” explained John.
“Speaking of free whiskey, how about passing the bottle?” said Samson. They did as he hoped, everybody poured another drink.
“John, we gotta do something while it gets quiet enough that folks ain’t out and about. The good people up her hate niggers as much as we do, but they would be horrified that we have the guts to actually do something about it,” Samson said.
” Ain’t that right, Bobby?” he added.
“Sure, John just don’t like it ’cause he can’t play poker for shit,” said Bobby.
“Shut up and deal,” said John, half mad and half teasing.
Samson and Dup took the next three hands between them. The rest of the whiskey drinkers were having trouble with their hand – eye coordination.
“Dammit, that first bottle of whiskey is catching up with me,” said a thick-tongued Bobby.
“It’s not your first bottle, it’s this one. Look at Bobby!” John sputtered. Bobby was falling out of his chair, but couldn’t make it to the floor. His chair was against the wall and he sat crookedly wedged between the wall and the table. Bobby starred at Bobby for a moment then slowly turned to look at Samson.
Something was wrong, he wasn’t as drunk as he thought. He could think clearly. Clear enough to know someone was trying to hurt him. He tried to speak, he wanted to confront Samson. It had to be Samson, he brought the bottle in and he had the first drink out of it.
Samson had put something in the whiskey! Why wasn’t Samson falling down? He had been drinking as much as anybody. Samson ignored Bobby and the other men lolling and falling.
“Dup, you think them dogs only eat niggers?” Samson asked.
“What you mean? And who cares about the dogs? What’s the matter with Bobby? And them, too?” Dup asked gesturing at the four helpless men.
“Oh, I care about the dogs, looks like Bobby and his friends get to be the dog food tonight,” said Samson.
“You not gonna hurt my Bobby!” said Dup, angrily rising to his steady feet.
“No, I’m not going to hurt them, you are,” said Samson, easing his stolen pistol out where Dup could see it.
“But why?” asked Dup, as he slid back into his chair.
“I’ll tell you in a little while, first you need to feed the dogs. I know how you like to throw the niggers over the fence. If you want to see the sun come up in the morning, you better pick your Bobby up and toss him over the fence,” instructed Samson.
“But why?” Dup insisted.
“Why has Bobby gotta be dog food? I’ll tell you in a little bit. Why do you have to do it, because it something you’re good at, and if you don’t I’ll shoot you, now get started,” said Samson, waving his pistol from Dup towards Bobby.
As Dup lifted him up Bobby heard Samson telling him, “Bobby, you never thought I might be Samson Davis, the great grandson of Bo Davis that ran away, did you? It never occurred to you that your old great great uncle Samson might have been my great grandfather?”
“He told me the whole story about the old man raping his mama, about the accident, about having to flee for his life, all on account of him being a negro,” Samson went on, as Dup carried Bobby to the fence.
Bobby wanted to tell Samson to shut up, he wanted to tell Dup to put him down, his mind was working overtime trying to think of what he would say to persuade Dup to challenge this crazy nigger with a gun. He realized nothing he thought of would save him. He couldn’t make a sound.
“I’m so sorry Bobby,” sobbed Dup as he heaved his cousin over the fence like he had done before with his helpless negro brothers. Bobby landed with a crunch, he screamed as the dogs ripped his flesh. He screamed but his mouth never opened.
At gunpoint, Dup carried each one of the men to the fence and tossed them over. It was more than the pack of dogs could handle.
As they would have done with this kind of good fortune on the African plains, they ate Bobby to the bones, but stopped to assure they killed each new body as it came over the wall, each man fully aware of their doom but unable to move or scream.
Samson laughed, “come on Dup, you know they hated you as much as any other nigger, if Bobby wasn’t looking out for you, they would have whipped your ass.”
“Maybe, but why did you kill Bobby?” asked Dup, pitifully.
“He was the last line of the poison that came to me when Ben Davis raped my Great Grandma, he had to die,” explained Samson, as he followed Dup back into the empty house.
“What do you mean the last of the line? I’m part of the same family,” argued Dup, too slow to realize what his words meant.
“Yeah, I know, that’s why you need to sit over here in this chair,” answered Samson, pulling out the dining chair, where an hour earlier Bobby sat cussing and cheating with his friends.
“I thought you said you were gonna let me go, gonna let me see the sunrise if I did what you said. you not gonna kill me are you?” begged Dup.
“Sit down,” ordered Samson, pulling a roll of clothesline from his pocket.
“Here tie this around your wrist,” instructed Samson.
“I ain’t gonna help you kill me!” cried Dup, pulling his hand back.
“Look now, I know you are dumb as a tree, but can’t you see I got to tie you up so you don’t go tell anybody before I get out of town. If I was gonna kill you, all I have to do is pull this trigger,” reasoned Samson. Dup took the end of line and carefully and dutifully tied it around his wrist.
“Now sit still while I wrap this around you.” he instructed.
“Hey, that’s too tight ,” Dup objected.
“Gotta make it tight, so it takes you a while to get free. I want to be a long way away when that happens,” said Samson. Dup squirmed, but stayed seated. In a minute Samson had him tied pretty well.
“Dup, what I don’t get, and I know you are pretty slow, but how could you kill your brother negroes, why didn’t you kill Bobby instead?” asked Samson.
“I don’t know, it was fun and Bobby was my cousin. I’m mostly white, too,” Dup replied.
“Your white, too, why do you care if we was killing niggers, you helped in the hunting, you’re just like the rest of us,” added Dup.
“No, I’m not just like the rest of you. I helped so Bobby would trust me. Y’all were gonna kill anyway, I didn’t help kill anybody that you would have spared. My mission was to destroy the evil that was Davis Hill. My job is almost finished,” explained Samson.
“Almost? What you gonna do now? You still gonna kill me?” asked Dup.
“Oh no, I ‘m not gonna kill you. I’m just gonna open the back door and let the dogs decide if they want to bite the hand that feeds them,” said Samson.
“What do you think they gonna do, Dup?” asked Samson.
“They gonna eat me! That’s what they gonna do. Don’t let’m eat me Samson! We’re family, ain’t we?” implored Dup.
“Sorry Dup, you got too much blood on your hands. The dogs will have to decide. Maybe they will be too full to eat anymore…” he said.
” Maybe I should tape your mouth, I never liked the sound of those poor screaming negroes when they hit the ground,” said Samson.
“No, I won’t scream, I promise, don’t put no tape on me,” begged Dup.
“Oh, you’ll scream alright, if you don’t scream before, when they start pulling your guts across the kitchen floor before your eyes, you’ll scream,” said Samson.
“I tell you what, I will be gone by then. I’m gonna let you scream, I won’t tape you,” said Samson, patting Dup on the shoulder.
“I’m gonna pick up a few things now, don’t go anywhere,” said Samson as he walked into Bobby’s bedroom. He looked under the bed. Sure enough there was a small lock box, unlocked. Samson opened it. It was full of twenties, maybe a couple of hundred of them. Samson closed the box and picked it up. On the dresser was a few more bills, tens and twenties, he stuffed them in his pocket.
Back out in the dining room Dup was nervous. He grew angry when he saw Samson was robbing the place.
“Hey, it ain’t your stuff and Bobby won’t need it anymore,” said Samson, noticing Dup’s look. Samson started to scoop up the money scattered around the poker game. It was more than he could put in his pockets. He went into Dup’s room and grabbed up the old slave quilt.
When he returned, Dup saw the quilt, ” hey, you can’t take that, that was Granny May’s!”
“She’s dead now ain’t she?” asked Samson.
“Yeah, but it’s mine now,” answered Dup.
“Was yours, maybe the dogs will get you, maybe they won’t, but you can live without the quilt if they leave you alone,” said Samson, wrapping the lock box and the table money in the quilt. Samson carried the quilt out and set it in the Caddy.
When he came back in, Dup was still tied up snugly. Samson walked over and opened the back door and whistled. He turned and went to the front door. Samson watched the back door and he watched Dup.
“Close the door, please Samson. Don’t let them get me. They gonna eat me!” pleaded Dup.
“You gonna shut up or you want me to tape you?” asked Samson. Dup was silent. They both watched the back door. In a minute, a pair of yellow eyes gleamed out of the darkness. Dup cried out but Samson was already on the front porch.
Leaving Alabama 1959
Samson leaned against a column on the front porch and smoked a cigarette. Dup was screaming. It really didn’t bother Samson, after all he was technically a serial killer by now. He could have been convicted at least ten counts of murder, regardless of whether the dogs ever ate Dup.
The dogs had cautious eyes and full bellies. At first the one dog just stood at the doorway. Bobby had been very careful to never open the back door after he released the dogs into the back yard, so this was an unfamiliar passage to the dogs.
After a while the little brown dog with big black ears yipped a coyote sort of sound and the rest of the pack wandered over to the door. Between the five dogs, they had eaten most of a one hundred and eighty pound man and chewed a few steak size pieces out of the rest of them. They had overwhelming urge to sleep, but Dup wiggled and cried out, triggering the primal reaction among predators. Kill!
The first dog sniffed inside the door, then eased across the threshold. He walked carefully around Dup, who smelled strongly of fear by this point. The dog searched the rest of the house looking for a trap. Samson waited outside, peering through the front window.
He saw the lead dog give a series of yips and watched the misleadingly cute pack of dogs swarm into the kitchen. A few minutes later most of Dup’s major organs had been pulled from his body. With the destruction of his heart and lungs, he was spared any further agony.
Samson had smoked a half a pack of his favorite Camels waiting on the dogs to finish the job. Samson had left the free Winston’s at the boarding house. He had stopped on his way up tonight and brought a new carton of Camels. He wasn’t going back to the radio station, he didn’t need any damn prissy filter cigarettes. The long August day was about to get started. A fine light began to seep into the near total darkness that had been the night. In about a hour the sun would be blazing and Samson would be gone.
Samson took a jerry can out of the back of Bobby’s pickup. It had about three gallons of gasoline. He had noticed the can when he had joined the boys on the hunts for negroes. Bobby didn’t like to run out of gas and he would go for weeks without getting into a town where he could refill his tank. Usually he kept two of the five gallon size cans full, but he had just topped off his tank because it was getting low.
As it had been Friday night, he didn’t want to stall out on the side of the road chasing some frightened black man with a bed full of crazy white men. Bobby had planned to drive over to Wetumpka for gas and supplies on Saturday. As it turned out, the trip would not be necessary.
Samson poured the gas on the front porch, soaking the whole of the three gallons into the old wooden deck boards. He stepped back, lit a match and tossed it . Whoof! The porch was aflame. Inside the dogs were suffering from too much food as well as low dosages of puffer fish poison from eating the men’s livers. They curled up contentedly around the remains of what had once been Luther “Dup” Jones Brown.
The fire should have frightened them all out into the back yard. But they stayed in the house, as the fire broke through the front wall of the house a couple of them struggled but could not rise, the others lay still.
Samson smoothly steered the blue Caddy quietly down the long drive away from the crackling fiery remains of the bungalow. He looked over at the quilt. Was it haunted? He felt untouchable now. The thrill of killing the last of Davis Hill made him feel high. He reached over and flipped the lock box unto the floor board, then he rolled the haphazard mess of money from the poker table unto the floor board, too.
Samson picked up the quilt, and rubbed the strange looking square. Suddenly May was sitting beside him.
“Dammit, it is haunted,” he yelled, almost driving into the ditch.
“Did you read the scriptures?” she asked.
“Yeah, so I already knew about Samson and Delilah,” he said, trying to regain his composure.
“Did you read this part?” asked May.
May pulled the little onion skin sheet of gospel out of the quilt and read, ” And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.”
And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
“Look, I told you I read it all,” answered Samson.
“You thought you were the Samson with the jawbone, slaying your thousand Philistines, but you are wrong. You are the Samson who just pulled the temple down on top of himself. You now have the old curse on you for the rest of your life,” she said calmly.
“Go away!” Samson screamed, as he threw the quilt out the window.
May disappeared with the quilt. When Samson looked in his rearview mirror, he saw the old woman pick the quilt up out of the road. She shook it and folded it carefully. Then she laid it on a stone and disappeared. Samson stuffed the bills stirring on the floor board into his pockets and into the glove box. A few twenties blew out the window. He didn’t dare stop. He accelerated out on to the main road.
Rose awoke. It was five am. Contractions were starting, not close and not hard, but without a doubt the real thing. “Oh god, I can’t have a baby now, not here, alone in the middle of the night,” thought Rose.
She wasn’t too far away from the Davis place to smell the smoke or here the sounds of the fire, but she had no way of knowing the rapist father of unborn child Robert “Bobby” Davis Jones, Jr. was already dead.
“I wish Joe was here! I’m gonna have this baby and the woods is on fire,” thought Rose, as she pulled herself to an upright position. A sharp pain of another contraction stopped her.
“Dammit,” she swore out loud.
Mabel Washington delivered babies, among other things. She did a little root medicine, but mostly she caught babies in a hurry to get started on the trail of grief know n as life. She was going to check on Rose, anyway. Rose was about due.
She might have put it off for another day, but the fire had drawn her interest, and then there was the quilt. It had to be a sign. And she believed in signs. There on the side of the road was a very old, but clean baby’s quilt. It was folded up and placed neatly on a rock beside the road.
Mabel stopped her rusty 1951 Ford sedan. She pulled up on the handbrake hard and left it idling in neutral. You never know, it might some weird trap. She wanted to be able to get back in the car in a hurry and putter off as fast as the tired Ford could go.
It wasn’t a trap. It was odd though, the blanket looked like it could be over a hundred years old. It looked like slave-cloth scraps, except the one odd square with the piece of leather sewn crudely over a faded piece of green and white taffeta.
Mabel sat it on the seat beside her and turned around to go see Rose.
She could ask about the fire later.
“Rose, honey, how you doing this fine morning?” asked Mabel as she pushed open the door.
“Thank you Jesus,” said Rose, “I’m having this baby today.”
“I sure was afraid I was gonna be delivering him myself. I ‘m so glad you here,” Rose added.
“What makes you think its a boy?” Mabel asked.
“He sure hurts like a man, that’s all I know,” said Rose
Mabel began to get everything ready for the delivery. It was late in the afternoon before Rose pushed through the last contraction and the old lady held the baby up to see the setting sun. By now Samson was half way between Nashville and Louisville.
“It’s a girl, after all,” said Mabel.
“I’ll name her Hope, Lord knows I need some hope,” Rose said.
The Birth 1959
On August 4th, as the afternoon sun neared the finish
of its long trek across the Alabama sky,
the woman gave a final push
and the nurse held up a glorious child
– a golden child,
with a thin nose and golden eyes
and a head covered with ringlets
that looked for all the world
like threads of spun gold.
No one, not even the old African seer,
could know what destruction or redemption
this child would bring.
The Monroe Plantation was inspired by the MacLemore Plantation located just east of Montgomery at Auburn University at Montgomery. As far as I know, none of the MacLemores were ever involved in any of the activities set forth in this book.
Davis Hill is a mixing of the Alabama River flood plain between Montgomery and Prattville and Jasmine Hill, home of the beautiful Jasmine Hill Gardens. The gardens, built by Benjamin and Mary Fitzpatrick in the early 1930s , were the basis for the Davis Gardens built during the Empire Building section and maintained by Betty thereafter.
The bungalow was a ‘real Klan house’ near Mount Meigs on Wares Ferry Road.
Chris’ was and is a small restaurant on Dexter Avenue. If you go to Montgomery, stop in and have a hot dog and a coke.
The farmhouse is located across from the post office in Shorter, Alabama. I no longer live there. Today my home is in South Florida.
The Elmwood is based on a real bar in Pensacola, Florida. The actual name is the Azalea. It is one of those old bars that predates most community improvement regulations. It is the only place to get a drink in Pensacola between 2 am and 3 am.
If you go there for any other reason than to have a beer or a simple mixed drink, you will be disappointed.
My one trip to the Azalea was at 2:30 in the morning and my guide/companion told me to order a rum and coke but not a Black Russian. His words were something to this effect, “People come here to drink, if you want more than two ingredients, they will either throw you out or ignore your drink order, depending on the mood of the crowd and the bartender.” I had a long neck Budweiser, just to be safe.
Samson’s Story (King James Version) Judges 15 & 16
1. But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in.
2. And her father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion: is not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her.
3. And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure.
4. And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.
5. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.
6. Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.
7. And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.
8. And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam.
9. Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi.
10. And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us.
11. Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.
12. And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.
13. And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock.
14. And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.
15. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.
16. And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.
17. And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathlehi.
18. And he was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?
19. But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof Enhakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day.
20. And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
1. Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.
2. And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him.
3. And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.
4. And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
5. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.
6. And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.
7. And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.
8. Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.
9. Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known.
10. And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound.
11. And he said unto her, If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.
12. Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And there were liers in wait abiding in the chamber. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread.
13. And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web.
14. And she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awaked out of his sleep, and went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web.
15. And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.
16. And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
17. That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
18. And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.
19. And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.
20. And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.
21. But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.
22. Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
23. Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.
24. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.
25. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.
26. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.
27. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
28. And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
29. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
30. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
31.Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the buryingplace of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.